A “flying cowboy” accompanies first Heifer Project shipment to Korea

As early as December 1947, requests started coming to the Heifer Project for animals for Korea, which had lost about half of its cattle in World War II. The need in Korea stayed on HP radar until finally in August 1951, Heifer Project Executive Secretary Thurl Metzger made a trip to Korea during the Korean War to investigate possibilities.

In cooperation with the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA), the first project turned out to be 216,000 hatching eggs. Divided into three air shipments a week apart, the eggs would help reconstruct the decimated Korean poultry industry. So the first cowboy to Korea turned out to be a “flying cowboy” rather than seagoing.

from The Indianapolis Star, May 25, 1942.

On April 1, 1952, Warsaw, Indiana, poultry breeder Hobart Creighton, on whose farm the eggs were produced, took off from Midway Airport in Chicago in a cargo plane carrying 200 boxes of Leghorn hatching eggs. He accompanied the shipment as a consultant for the United Nations to oversee proper transport, incubation, and distribution of the eggs.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

After a stop to gas up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the plane hit icy conditions on its leg to Seattle, Washington. “Ice over windshield and on wings,” Creighton notes, “but the pilot said the DC4 could carry a lot of ice, so we let him do the worrying.” The plane made further stops in Anchorage, Alaska; Shemya Island in the Aleutian Islands archipelago; and Tokyo, Japan, before landing safely in Pusan (now Buson), Korea.

This historic Heifer Project shipment made news in the U.S., as Richard “Dick” Simons of The Indianapolis Star traveled with Creighton and a reporter from Life magazine met up with them in Tokyo. “We were met by the ‘Big Brass’,” Creighton says, “General W. E. Crist, a host of Colonels, Lt. Colonels, Majors, the Korean Minister of Agriculture, and Representatives of UNKRA and UNCACK (United Nations Civil Assistance Corps Korea). There were four trucks and a host of Korean laborers who in no time flat had unloaded the plane and had the eggs on the way to hatcheries, to Taegu.”

A couple days after their arrival in Korea, Creighton was guest of honor at a dinner where he was well entertained by “Kieson gals”, with one assigned to each guest. “One fed me with the chopsticks and saw that I had plenty of sushi,” Creighton says. “They were good singers and dancers and very interesting companions.” Moderately dressed in velvet skirts, they exhibited “nothing bordering on vulgarity or sex that one finds in American performances.”

Creighton stayed in the area a good three weeks, meeting the next egg plane, walking the back roads to visit Korean poultry farms, and visiting the hatcheries. He was present at the hatchery in Kumhae when the last of 14,400 eggs delivered there were placed in the incubator.

The last of 14,400 eggs being placed in the incubator at Kumhae. Source: The Indianapolis Star, May 25, 1952.

At one hatchery, there was one egg case that Creighton hadn’t gotten instructions about in time, however. “It was an egg case full of cookies made by [my daughter] Jo,” Creighton says. “Dick reported later, the incubator workers said one case of eggs was especially tasty!”

Creighton had the opportunity to be taken to the front lines of fighting while there. “Shortly we were passing ruins of all kinds,” he says. “Seoul was shot up pretty badly. Bridges out. Some repaired, others still dangling, locomotives and trains burned out and left lying. In the country five miles south of the 38th parallel there has been, and still is, complete evacuation of civilian population. The rice paddies are idle for the third consecutive year.”

They drove on another 65 miles to the battle front. A Scotch 2nd Lieutenant took them up Hill 238. “Below were the red panels, marking the points of furthermost advance of UN line,” Creighton says, “and there was no man’s land about one mile in front of us. [The Lieutenant] had his crew fire two or three shots from the 82 mm guns mounted on top of the Centurian tank. We watched the projectile and saw the exploding 100 feet or less from the target. We wondered if our fire might bring a reply, but not this time.” Creighton’s party returned to their billet in Seoul in time to watch the American movie “Too Young to Kiss.” A day in contrasts.

Before leaving for his roundabout trip home with stops throughout southern Asia, Creighton had the opportunity to see some of the Creighton Brothers’ chicks at hatcheries and be present at their distribution. UNKRA’s agricultural reconstruction of Korea had begun.

 

Special Post: Korea brings the Heifer Project full circle

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, scars of which still remain today. In memory of that time, a major Korean media outlet has posted a series of three articles by reporter Hong Duk-hwa and a YouTube video this week about how Heifer Project, Inc., today’s Heifer International, stepped into the fray.

Korean Heifer supporter Haewon Lee tells me, “All three articles highlight how HPI and Heifer’s Seagoing Cowboys, undiscovered ‘heroes’ of the Korean War, helped to reconstruct the war-stricken Korean livestock industry and farmers.”

Google’s rough translation of the titles are: 1) “Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ reviving the ruins of the Korean livestock industry,” 2) “The story of a cowboy driving a herd of cows across the Pacific Ocean,” 3) “When the gift of livestock is hopeful to us who have been dead…now it’s time to give.” If you’d like to take a look at the original articles with photos, the links are posted below. (You can ask Google to translate if you don’t read Korean. The translation is rough, but you can get the gist.)

HPI began its shipments to Korea in the midst of the war with approximately 210,000 hatching eggs sent by air in April 1952. Airlifts of goats and hogs followed in June with more in 1953 before the war’s end. Shipments by sea, including cattle, began in 1954, with the last shipments by air in 1976.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Thurl Metzger, Executive Secretary of HPI when these shipments began, traveled to Korea in the autumn of 1951 to survey the needs there. After the successful shipments of hatching eggs, he said in a news release: “My recent tour of Korea convinces me that the longer the conflict continues, the greater the need. Therefore, we must not relax our efforts because [truce] negotiations seem to be at a standstill.”

“The war has brought about wholesale destruction of livestock,” he said in background material sent with the release. “Shortage of work cattle has made it impossible to cultivate many of the rice paddies and fields. The rural economy has also suffered near bankruptcy due to the fact that farmers have been deprived of their chickens and hogs which heretofore had provided significant income.” He underscored the fact that “Lack of proper animal protein in the Korean diet has also become a serious threat to public health.”

A letter of gratitude sent to Metzger in July 1968 from the Union Christian Service Center in Taejon, Korea, quantifies the value of Heifer’s gifts to Korea. “The total value of this stock and supplies, according to prices in Korea today, we estimate to nearly reach half million dollars.” This does not “consider the value of the offspring from all the livestock imported. Therefore,” the four signees concluded, “within several years, we would estimate the total help to Korea originating from your contribution as high as a million dollars.”

And today, as seen in the third of the Korean articles this week, Koreans are bringing their gifts from Heifer full circle. The article tells the story of Heifer recipient Jae-bok Lee, now a successful dairy farmer at age 83. In 1988, Mr. Lee and eight fellow dairy farmers traveled to Heifer International headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, to share their experience. “After returning home,” the article says, “Mr. Lee collected $7,300 to buy 8 cows and donated them to farmhouses in Sichuan, China in 1989.”

Today Mr. Lee says, “I don’t know how long I will work (healthy), but I want to play a role in delivering the gift of hope to the developing countries (like us at that time).”

Heifer International’s core value of “Passing on the Gift” has come full circle in Korea, a demonstration of how giving to Heifer International is exponential.

Watch for stories here in July of seagoing cowboys to Korea.

P.S. I’m adding a link to a Yonhap News TV report with remarkable historical video footage: Not a Cup, But a Cow: Seagoing Cowboys crossed the sea to Korea

Was there confiscation of UNRRA and Heifer Project livestock?

Rumors abounded among seagoing cowboys who went to Poland that UNRRA horses were being stolen by the Russians and shipped off to Russia. I’ve found assurances in archival materials that this was not the case. The following letter dated October 28, 1946, was sent to the Brethren Service Committee by Brig. C. M. Drury, Chief of the UNRRA Mission to Poland in Warsaw:

Subject: Livestock imported to Poland

Although we have received rumors from various sources that some livestock brought to Poland by U.N.R.R.A. has been taken by other countries, particularly Russia, our investigations have repeatedly proven all such rumors to be without foundation.

I can say without hesitation that to date as far as I know not one U.N.R.R.A. animal has been stolen from the Polish people by the Russians.

On the other hand, the Polish Government Repatriation Office informs us that the Russian government has permitted repatriated persons returning to Poland from Russia to bring with them up to the end of the first quarter of 1946: 52,536 horses, 121,347 cows, 36,775 hogs and 55,329 sheep and goats.

Signed: C. M. DRURY, Chief of Mission

An identical letter was signed by Dr. A. G. Wilder, Chief Veterinarian.

Polish farmers receiving their new work horses at a collection station, 1946. Photo credit: James Brunk.

This assessment was confirmed by Gaither P. Warfield of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief and Methodist representative to the Heifer Project Committee who visited Poland in early 1947. Minutes of the March 29, 1947, HPC meeting state: “Warfield said he had not seen any confiscation by the Russians in Poland since they came into the country in the last six or eight months.” Ralph Delk, at the same meeting, reported that “Dr. Wilder has traced down rumors of confiscation but not in any single instance have they found Russian confiscation of American gifts.”

So the seagoing cowboys can rest assured that their animals most likely got to where they were meant to go.

There were two instances, however, where animals sent by the Heifer Project were diverted within Poland. Thurl Metzger, later to become Executive Director of the Heifer Project, spent mid-October 1946 to mid-April 1947 in Poland working for both UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. He reported these happenings to the Heifer Project Committee on his return to the United States.

In March 1946, 228 HPC heifers were shipped to Poland on the S. S. Woodstock Victory. Apparently by mistake, these heifers were sold by the Polish government as regular UNRRA supplies. Metzger discovered the mistake, backed up his claim with evidence, and approached Polish officials about the missing animals. “Armed with only my youthful indignation,” Metzger reported years later, “I was able to secure a settlement.”

Based on the average the Polish government received for the sale of UNRRA heifers to Polish farmers, a total of 4,104,000 zloties was deposited by the government in the Naradowy Bank Polskie in Warsaw. This posed a problem for Metzger: What to do with $41,040-worth of zloties that outside of Poland were worthless? He reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the answer “came like a revelation.” The money was used that July to pay the passage for ten Polish students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw to the United States to spend a year in the homes of American farm families. This planted a seed, which lay dormant for a decade due to the Cold War. Then in 1957, the Church of the Brethren began the Polish Agricultural Exchange Program, which lasted for nearly 40 years.

Students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw, Poland, gather with officials in the United States in 1947. Thurl Metzger, top left. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Thurl Metzger family.

The second diversion of cattle happened in December 1946 when a private company contracted by the Polish government to handle all imported livestock substituted some poor quality cows for Heifer Project’s best heifers through a slight of hand. They would have gotten away with it were it not for a brave peasant impressed by Heifer’s humanitarian efforts who came forward several days later and reported the incident to Metzger’s office. An investigation ensued, and five Heifer Project animals were identified in the firm’s herd by their ear tags. “Again the government acted in good faith,” reported Metzger, “and ordered the firm to turn over the five identified cows which were additions to the substitutions that had already been made.” Metzger concluded, “[I]t is significant that the Polish government reputed to be Communist was concerned enough about their relations to a small church group that they made an unusual effort to keep the records straight.”