Seagoing Cowboy Crew Reunions

Edgar Metzler, Ron Graber, Don White, Owen Gingerich, and Al Meyer reunite this week in Goshen, Indiana.

S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crewmates Edgar Metzler, Ron Graber, Don White, Owen Gingerich, and Al Meyer reunited this week in Goshen, Indiana. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Meyer.

Several seagoing cowboy crews became close-knit units who didn’t want their friendships to end when they walked off their ships. Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to participate in the 70th anniversary reunion of the S. S. Stephen R Mallory crew of Mennonite high school and college students who went to Poland. What a joy to hear them reminisce about their experiences that summer of 1946 which I highlighted in my June 24 post!

Second reunion of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew, 2001. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Second reunion of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew on their 55th anniversary, 2001. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Many of the Mallory cowboys stayed in touch individually through the years, but I learned that it wasn’t until their 50th anniversary that they gathered for their first reunion. Held at Camp Friedenswald in Michigan, their time there brought them together in a bond that has grown stronger through the years. They have met regularly since that first time.

 

 

Crew members of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, 1997. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

Crew members of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, 1997. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

The S. S. Rock Springs Victory crew of March 12, 1947, to Ethiopia also reunited for the first time for their 50th anniversary, meeting at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, as theirs was a Heifer Project shipment through UNRRA.

 

 

 

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Plans laid on the ship come to fruition. Courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

Members of the Clarksville Victory crew gather in Kokomo, Indiana, for a five-year reunion.

Morgantown Victory five-year reunion. Photo courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

For the S. S. Morgantown Victory crew of December 11, 1945, the bond was so strong on their return from Poland that they planned for a five-year reunion which was held in Kokomo, Indiana. They continued to meet through the years, with their last reunion, to my knowlege, in 2007.

Families joined in the reunions, making friends of many cowboy chidlren. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Families joined in the reunions, making friends of many cowboy children. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Clarksville Victory crew, 2007. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Clarksville Victory crew, 2005, at Camp Alexander Mack. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

 

 

The Clarksville Victory crew left the U.S. a day after the Morgantown Victory, and the two ships were in port in Poland at the same time. This crew also has gathered frequently through the years, most recently, I believe, in 2005.

It’s been a privilege to be part of some of these later reunions. Thank you, seagoing cowboys, for your many stories!

Special Crew #2: All-Mennonite crew of high school and college students come of age on a cattle boat

Half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory all-Mennonite crew.  Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory all-Mennonite crew. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

“Take a teenage Mennonite boy after World War II, put him on a cattle boat to Europe or China, stir him up with storms at sea, spice him with adventure and danger, bake him in the smoldering rubble of war, and what do you have? A recipe for the coming of age of a seagoing cowboy.” So begins my article “Coming of age on a cattle boat” for The Mennonite, January 10, 2006.

The other half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

The other half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Seventy years ago this week, thirty-two of those Mennonites, mostly high school and college students, set sail on the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory for Poland under the watchful eye of Bethel College history professor Dr. Melvin Gingerich. The Mallory left Newport News, Virginia, June 20, 1946, with 834 horses and a pistol-packing captain who made it known that he was the law on the ship, leaving no uncertainty that he would use his gun if necessary.

The trip was fraught with difficulties from the get-go, beyond the usual storms at sea and horse bites. Two days out to sea, engine troubles caused a side trip to Boston, giving the cowboys a chance to explore historical sites. Don Zook recalls seeing his first major league baseball game that night, as the Boston Braves were in town. Robert Ramseyer’s group went to the movies. While sitting in the harbor at Boston for three days their work still had to be done. Hot, stuffy, ammonia-laden holds made the work less than appealing and started a string of deaths of horses. According to UNRRA records, sixty-eight were lost before arriving in Poland.

The mess hall on the Mallory was one hold down. Photo courtesy of Loren Zimmerman.

Life goes on. The mess hall on the Mallory was one hold down. Photo courtesy of Loren Zimmerman.

Shortly after departing Boston, a generator went out; but the ship sailed on. Before reaching Europe boiler trouble and trouble with the watering system developed. Another day, the captain noticed cat hairs in his water glass. Al Meyer noted in his diary, “Skeleton and hair of cat found in sieve from drinking water tank. All water passed thru decayed cat until now. [We] call water ‘cat-nip-tea’!”

As if all of that wasn’t enough, the refrigeration system went on the fritz. The cowboys enjoyed an ice cream binge that evening and ate large portions of meat as it thawed until the walk-in cooler was empty, necessitating a stop in Plymouth, England, to restock and take on ice and water. Walking around Plymouth gave these young men their first taste of war devastation, raising an awareness that was heightened when the captain refused taking on a German pilot at Kiel, Germany, to guide the ship through the Baltic Sea, subsequently getting lost in a mine field causing close encounters with spiky mines and anxious moments for the crew.

Remnants of the war around Gdansk could not be avoided. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer/Len Smucker.

Remnants of the war around Gdansk could not be avoided. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer/Len Smucker.

Len Smucker notes that seeing war-torn Poland is “etched in my mind.” He recalls being met at the ship by young boys offering their sisters and mothers for sex. The cowboys roamed over battlefields and stood on the spot in Westerplatte where World War II started. Some, including Al Meyer, went to see the destroyed Danzig Mennonite Church. The Polish Mennonites did not share the peace position of the Mennonite Church in the United States.

This plaque in the Danzig Mennonite Church served as a sobering reminder of Polish Mennonite participation in World War I. Photo courtesy of Richard Rush.

This plaque in the Danzig Mennonite Church served as a sobering reminder of Polish Mennonite participation in World War I. Photo courtesy of Richard Rush.

Meyer recalls, “The thing I remember most is a tablet on the wall in honor of the brave men who gave their lives for the German Fatherland in the First World War. It was sort of symbolic to see the wreckage of the Second World War, a bombed out Mennonite community of which there were no remaining people.”

On their way home, the Mallory cowboys enjoyed a week in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the ship stopped for repairs.

Tivoli Gardens gave the Mallory cowboys a diversion from the weight of what they had seen in England and Poland. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Tivoli Gardens provided a diversion from the weight of war aftermath. Courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

This relatively undamaged city gave the group a chance to see Europe in its more pristine, classical sense, rounding out an experience they would never forget. They were also able to connect with Mennonites in Denmark.

These seagoing cowboys were boys when they left on the trip, but came home young men who went on to distinguish themselves in fields of medicine, higher education, and church and service work.

Even Captain Cronin was impressed:

Praise from the pistol-packing captain. Courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Next post: Special Crew #3: Interracial crew of Southern college students sponsored by the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen

Passing of another cowboy

I just got word of the passing of another seagoing cowboy on January 10. N. Dale Hostetler was part a special crew put together of Mennonite high school and college boys. They sailed to Poland on the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory June 19, 1946.

Stephen R. Mallory crew

The all-Mennonite crew of the Stephen R. Mallory, summer 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Rest in peace, Dale.