The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #2, Poland, December 1945 – Part III

One of the fascinating realities about the seagoing cowboy trips that has kept me so engrossed for the past sixteen years is that every cowboy’s experience is uniquely his. Thus, for every group of 25 cowboys, there are 25 stories! Today, I share seagoing cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman’s experience exploring the port area of Poland.

Seagoing cowboys from the S. S. Park Victory explore Gdansk, Poland, January 1946. Photo courtesy of Velma Hoffman.

As soon as the Park Victory docked the afternoon of January 11, interaction began with the guards and officials who came on board. For Hoffman, and most cowboys, the conversations painted a picture of postwar reality. One Polish guard bought cigarettes, Hoffman notes in his diary, which were the favored black market currency. Another “told of Russians coming to his house. Took his valuables. Wanted his wife. He couldn’t understand them. He told them she had T.B. They took 14 yr. old girl, kept her 5 days. Raped her 51 times. Brought her back, said she was drunk, is still sick, has syllphis [sic].”

Even though docked in port, there was still work to do feeding and watering the animals until unloading began the next morning. “Would unload at night,” Hoffman notes, “but [there is] fear of high jacking at night on way to stock yards.”

Unloading a horse in the “flying stall” at Nowy Port, Poland. January 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

Livestock received the UNRRA brand to protect from theft. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“Many [cowboys and crew] went from ship in evening to Bars. 4 crew had anti machine guns pulled on them by Russians. Very frequently hear shots. Open season on Poles as well as Russians.”

“A German dock worker lived in N.Y. 9 yrs.,” Hoffman notes. “Came to see mother. All clothes he owned (he) had on. Sold overcoat for food.”

One of the locations UNRRA livestock were gathered. Photo courtesy of Velma Hoffman.

The fourth day in port, as they did for many of the livestock crews, UNRRA took a group of the Park Victory men on a tour of the area. “Went to a camp where the Germans built stables and barracks,” Hoffman says. “Had a lot of UNRRA stock there. Saw a lot of our mares and heifers.” Later they were taken “to a little settlement of several families. Had horses, cows, hogs, rabbits. They were so appreciative of their stock.”

The UNRRA tours usually ended with a generous thank you dinner for the cowboys at a restaurant in the nearby resort town of Sopot which bore little damage from the war. “Courses were first 4 kinds of cold meats & bread,” Hoffman says. “Then vodka. Soup served in cups & saucers. Throughout meal brought vodka. After soup, stine [sic] of beer. Dinner of stake [sic], french fries, peas & carrots, cake of wet dough and delicious frosting.” Many a cowboy felt conflicted being served such a lavish meal while the people they’d been meeting were going hungry.

Banquet provided by UNRRA and the Polish Department of Agriculture for the seagoing cowboys. Photo credit: Ben Kaneda, July 1946.

On the day of departure, Hoffman records an incident that lowered his opinion of the ship’s Captain. As the Park Victory was pulling away, a Polish man on dock shouted “American comrade,” pointing down the channel. “Soon someone thought they saw the third engineer on the dock,” Hoffman notes. “I quickly spotted him through glasses as I had visited with him several times. Had taken a great interest in him because of his parents living in Poland. He was waving and calling to us. I saw the Master on top side walk to port side rail, look at him a moment, then turn away, walk back to center and light a cigarette. My heart sank for fear of (the engineer’s) welfare in such a country. Also my heart filled with rage at the Master for being so unjust to a fellow even tho he is much lower in position. Then I wondered how the 3rd Engineer must have felt. Later that night Don said he came aboard with the [channel] pilot and told some of his experiences. He had to go 400 miles. Part way by car, 2 days by train. His parents didn’t recognize him. His father is in very bad health and in clothes of shreds. He could provide (his father) some clothes. His mother told him he must sleep in the hay loft because his former friends and school mates would probably try to kill him for his possessions and identification papers in hopes that they might get to the states.” Fortunately, they didn’t come.

Next post: Ship’s radioman Will Keller’s experience in Poland.

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Seagoing Cowboy meets German relatives, December 1946

His father’s protests nearly kept 17-year-old Gerald Liepert from the experience of a lifetime. When Gerald asked his parents to sign the form permitting him to accompany livestock to post-World War II Europe, his mother tipped the scales with her quiet response, “Let him learn how other people have to live.”

Gerald was accepted into UNRRA’s seagoing cowboy program and hoped to be able to travel to Germany where two of his mother’s sisters lived. The ship destined for Germany to which he was assigned, however, blew a boiler. With his money running short from sitting out a maritime strike in Newport News, Virginia, Gerald signed on to the next available ship. Late September 1946 found him on his way across the Atlantic on the S.S. Pierre Victory with a load of horses headed for Poland.

Leftover ammunition on Poland battlefield, 1946. Photo credit: Cletus Schrock.

The trip left a vivid imprint on this 17-year-old mind. Gerald tells of being taken to a battlefield by a 12-year-old guide and recalls “partial skeletons in bunkers, a skull inside a helmet, foot bones in rotting socks in fox holes, mortars with ammunition still stacked nearby, etc. . . . heavy stuff for a 17-year-old’s first time away from home.”

On return to Newport News in late October, Gerald learned the next ship to Germany would leave in mid-November. This allowed time for him to travel home to Wisconsin to regroup and gave his mother time to write to her sisters to let them know of Gerald’s pending arrival in Bremen, scheduled for December 2. Gerald had no idea whether he would be able to see his aunts, whom he had never met, as they lived a significant distance from Bremen in Schlangenbad in the American Zone of Germany.

The aftermath of the storm that hit the S. S. Zona Gale, November 1946. Photo credit: Jeff Shoff, courtesy of Heifer International.

Gerald’s ship, the S. S. Zona Gale, met with a fierce storm that washed many of the horses over board and seriously injured two of the cattlemen. This necessitatied a medical emergency stop in England, delaying arrival in Bremen by three days. In the meantime, Gerald’s Aunt Elsa Dauer and Aunt Hanni Graupner were making the arduous trip by train through the American, French, and British Zones at a time when the trains that were still running were cold and overcrowded, food was scarce and available only through ration cards or the Black Market, and lodging was hard to find. They went first to Bremerhaven where they learned the ship was delayed. After much difficulty in obtaining information, they traveled on by boat up the Weser River to Bremen. There, a kind man at the river pilot station named Mr. Kassel helped them, even to the extent of providing the address and phone number to call his wife should they need a place to sleep.

The two women found their way through the rubble of Bremen to a makeshift “hotel” where they found a “room” within a room divided by bed sheets where they could stay and wait, cold and hungry, until they had news of Gerald, calling Mrs. Kassel every day to see if the ship had arrived.

Back on the Zona Gale, Gerald was working the night watchman shift when the ship took on a German pilot and headed up the Weser River to Bremen. The Second Mate asked him, “Do you know if there is a cattleman named Lippert or Leippert on board?” Gerald said, “I think you are talking about me, Sir!” The Second Mate directed him to the pilot, who handed Gerald an envelope containing the message, “We are here in Bremen expecting you. Contact Lykes Brothers Steamship Agency to find out how you can reach us. Tante Else.” Exciting news, to be sure!

When the ship docked at 7 a.m., Gerald and his friend Delmar headed immediately for the Lykes Brothers office, only to find it didn’t open until 9. They returned to the ship, where Mr. Kassel was looking for Gerald. “I have a Frau Dauer and a Fräulein Graupner waiting at my home to see you,” he said. After obtaining their shore passes, Gerald and Delmar accompanied Mr. Kassel via tram in below zero weather to the apartment complex where he lived. Gerald was grateful for the turtleneck sweater he had bought from the ship’s store on his first trip and his fur-lined gloves.

After their first meeting, the Aunts asked Gerald to go back to Schlangenbad with them to meet the rest of the family. Gerald got the Captain’s permission to leave for a week, but the permission required of the U. S. Army was denied: Gerald had no passport or military ID, only a seaman’s card issued by the U. S. Coast Guard. “While disappointed, at the same time I was relieved,” Gerald says, “because I was anxious about the return trip from Schlangenbad to Bremen alone.”

“After chow the next morning,” says Gerald, “Delmar and I energized the galley crew, who gladly packaged most of the edible leftovers. We also had cigarettes in our socks and every pocket (a valuable Black Market commodity for the Germans). I’m sure that Kassel’s were aware they might receive some of the largess by opening their home to us. Even so, we were grateful, and they easily became our way station.”

Bremen, Germany, 1946. Photo credit: Ivan Meck album, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Aunts Elsa and Hanni stayed on for a few days. “On a sightseeing tour of the city of Bremen,” says Gerald, “I do not recall seeing one building intact. We did visit the cathedral and catacombs, (but) sightseeing is not really exciting when it is cold, both indoors and out!”

The day before Aunt Elsa and Aunt Hanni planned to leave, “Delmar and I pulled out all the stops in bringing as much largess off the ship as we could,” says Gerald. “There were nine raw eggs in Delmar’s field jacket pocket, a number 10 can of pineapple, and other assorted goodies contributed by the galley crew. We had already given up most of our warm clothes, keeping only our work clothes and something for the train ride home. How did we get all this stuff off the ship? On an earlier day, the Army gate guard was very cold and I gave him my good set of fur-lined gloves. After that we were never checked. My wool turtleneck sweater went back to Schlangenbad and was still being worn by my cousin Erika when I came back to Germany in 1952 with the U. S. Army.”

And how did Elsa and Hanni get all those goodies through customs when all the passengers were taken off the train to be checked at the French Zone? It seems the customs officials were taking too long to suit the train personnel. Inspections stopped a few persons ahead of the two women. They had lost their seats by the time they got back on the train, but they still had their treasures.

Thanks to Gerald Liepert and his cousin Philip Graupner for their accounts of this story.

Seagoing Cowboys before World War II – Part III

Today, we look at how the experiences of the cowboys to Germany after World War I contrasted with those of the UNRRA seagoing cowboys after World War II.

The trip across the Atlantic was much the same in 1921 as in 1946 – seasickness, smelly holds, ocean vistas and all. The animals demanded the same attention for feed and water. However, the 1921 shipments contained a greater percentage of cows needing to be milked, with some cowboys responsible for as many as 60 head. Must have been some sore hands on those ships! The milk was dumped overboard.

The differences in the two eras manifested when the ships docked in Bremen. With little damage to structures by World War I artillery, the cowboys of 1921 found an exciting city still intact, with one crew heading into town for beer and to refresh their work-encrusted bodies in a public bath house. The cowboys after World War II could only step into the rubble left from saturation bombing and had no such pleasures.

Roger Ingold experiences war-torn Bremen, Germany, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Roger Ingold.

Being of German-speaking heritage and delivering dairy animals sent by ethnic Germans, the 1921 cowboys were met on board in Bremen by a welcoming committee and taken on tours through Bremen and around the country. They visited poet Goethe’s home in Weimar, banqueted with city council members in Leipzig, visited an orphanage in Halle where some of the cows were sent, and marveled at palaces and museums in Berlin. The UNRRA cowboys had no welcoming committees. The livestock they delivered were sent via rail on to Czechoslovakia, as Germany was not a receiving country for UNRRA goods. These cowboys made their way around the ruins of Bremen on their own, and that was as far as most of them got.

Devastation as far as the eye could see met the UNRRA seagoing cowboys in Bremen, Germany, in July 1946. Photo by Roger Ingold.

Living like kings ceased for the 1921 cowboys when they returned to their ship, however. “If the Germans looked on with warm hearts,” writes La Vern J. Rippley, “the West Arrow’s Captain Forward cast a less friendly eye.” At his command, the cowboys spent 13 days of their return voyage “pitching manure, scraping stalls and washing down the interior of the ship.” No matter that the work wasn’t in their contract.

Even though the cowboys of 1921 had not seen the brutal devastation witnessed by the UNRRA cowboys of later years, like the UNRRA cowboys, they came home realizing the reality of war. Cowboy Peter Andres commented in a New York Times article of February 25, 1921, “There is too much misery here.” Others noted, “We have had plenty to eat and have been banqueted everywhere but everywhere we have seen hungry children and tubercular adults who need milk.”

The human face of war is timeless.

 

Sources for this post were two articles by La Vern J. Rippley: “Gift Cows for Germany,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer 1973 and “American Milk Cows for Germany: A Sequel,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer, 1977.

Cattle for Israel: An additional seagoing cowboy program – Part I

Key figures in the supply of livestock for UNRRA’s shipments to Europe after WWII were two Jewish brothers, Ben and Sol Levinson, owners of the Levinson Livestock Company. With an office in Newport News, Virginia, and a 4,000-acre farm along the C&O railroad near Williamsburg, they re-purposed a 600-head feed lot for handling animals for export. Two years after UNRRA’s work ceased, the Levinson brothers were exporting again – this time to Israel. The first shipment left Newport News November 16, 1949, setting a new seagoing cowboy program in motion.

The S. S. Pass Christian Victory loads cattle for Israel in Newport News, VA, Nov. 1949. Photo credit: John R. Martin.

The Palestine News of December 2, 1949, reported the shipment’s arrival:

HAIFA, Thursday [Dec. 1]. — More milk will flow in Israel after today’s arrival of 744 milch cows, 42 calves and two bulls of Friesian stock, on the s.s. Pass Christian Victory, a ship of the U.S. Maritime Commission. This is the first consignment of cattle ordered by the Jewish Agency Agricultural Department, for building up livestock in new settlements.

Seagoing cowboy J. Harold Buckwalter notes in his diary on November 16:

They loaded no. 5 hatch first with the milk cows. We started milking first thing. Our beginning number was about 40. (We loaded 900 bred registered Holstien [sic] heifers, which were scheduled to give birth to their first calves after arrival in Israel!, but because the ship was delayed in New Orleans, before coming to Newport News, the calves began to arrive before sailing and we milked our way across the atlantic!)

First crew of seagoing cowboys for Israel livestock program, Nov. 1949. Photo credit: John R. Martin.

“We were supposed to have milking machines on board,” says Lewis Burkholder. “I went as a milker and the pay was $175.00. Some men went as feeders and their pay was $150.00.”

The extra pay hardly made up for the rigors of the job. “By the time we got to Israel we were milking eight hours a day,” Burkholder says. “Four in the morning and four in the evening.”

The crossing was a rough one. “Imagine milking cows by hand with the ship rolling from side to side and most of the cows were first lactation heifers and many of us were seasick. Our hands got very, very sore from milking so many hours. One man had brought a large bottle of liniment along, so in the evening we would rub it on our hands and then hold our hands over the light bulb at each bed.”

What did they do with so much milk? one wonders. “We were supposed to pull the milk up to the deck and dump it over the side,” Burkholder says. “We learned that some cows would drink the milk so we recycled some of it. Some cows would drink as much as ten gallons.”

Camels walking through Nazareth, Dec. 1949. Photo credit: J. Harold Buckwalter.

On arrival in Haifa, J. Harold Buckwalter recalls receiving a “Royal Welcome.” Their hard work was rewarded when the cowboys were given a two-day, all-expense-paid tour of the Holy Lands by the Israeli government. Buckwalter notes seeing “flocks of sheep along the hills,” seeing “Arabs along the roads, riding donkeys,” driving past “citrus groves and olive trees, palms and banana trees,” seeing “immigration settlements, living in tents.” They visited a Kibbutz and Holy sites in Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Mount Zion. On their own after the tour, they explored the Sea of Galilee and Tel Aviv and went up Mount Carmel for a view of Haifa at night.

John R. Martin notes, “The trip turned out to be an experience of a life time.”

(to be continued)

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.”

UNNRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China – Part V

A bonus for the seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory was an UNRRA side trip to New Zealand to pick up another 406 head of cattle and 1026 sheep for China. This route required crossing the Equator, which resulted in an initiation for those crossing it for the first time, promoting them from the status of “pollywog” to “shellback.”

Equator initiation on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory, February 1947. Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

King Neptune initiates a “pollywog.” Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

“We were brought out onto the deck blindfolded one at a time for our initiation,” recalls Richard Reiste. “First we were asked how we liked the steward’s chow. If we said ‘good’ someone said here is some more for you to enjoy – or if we said ‘not so good’ they said ‘Here try this!’ Either way we got a mouthful of sawdust soaked in diesel fuel mixed with a generous amount of Cayenne pepper.”

Becoming a “shellback.” Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

In addition, as Harold Hersch recorded in his diary, “[we were] made to crawl through cornmeal and tar, paddled thoroughly all the while, made to kiss the King’s (King Neptune, portrayed by the steward) buttox [sic] which was made quite tasty by a tar painting.

A “shocking” initiation experience . Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

Finally, we were set down in a chair charged with 225 volts which provided quite a thrill. (I omitted the hair cutting.) All our hair was cut off even to the skull.”

Richard Reiste still has his stamped document of initiation which reads:

DOMAIN OF NEPTUNE REX

TO ALL SAILORS WHEREVER YE MAY BE: and to all Mermaids, Whales, Sea Serpents, Porpoises, Sharks, Dolphins, Eels, Skates, Suckers, Crabs, Lobsters, and all other Living Things of the Sea; GREETINGS:

KNOW YE: That on this 3rd day of February 1947, in Latitude 0000 and Longitude 148°15’E, there appeared within our Royal Domain the good ship SS LINDENWOOD VICTORY crossing the Equator and bound for the South Pacific and New Zealand.

BE IT REMEMBERED

THAT the said Vessel and Officers and Crew thereof have been inspected and passed on by Ourself and Our Royal Staff
AND BE IT KNOWN: By all ye Sailors, Marines, Landlubbers and others who may be honored by his presence that

RICHARD H. REISTE

Having been found worthy to [be] numbered as one of our Trusty Shellbacks, has been duly initiated into the

SOLEMN MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT ORDER OF THE DEEP

BE IT FURTHER UNDERSTOOD: That by Virtue of the power invested in me, I do hereby command all my subjects to show due honor and respect to him wherever he may be.

DISOBEY THIS ORDER UNDER PENALTY OF OUR ROYAL DISPLEASURE!

Given under Our Hand and Seal this 3rd day of February 1947.

His Majesty’s Scribe                       Ruler of the Raging Main

By his Servant:
(Signed by ship’s officer — name unintelligible)

The payoff for enduring this excruciating event was the warm welcome of New Zealanders for the seagoing cowboys. Americans were held in high esteem because of their assistance in World War II. Anywhere the cowboys went, they were invited into people’s homes for a meal. They enjoyed shows, movies, dances, and museums. Some were taken rabbit hunting and deer hunting. The National Fair was in progress, and Les Messamer notes, “I enjoyed looking at the prime livestock that were there to be judged. I saw many of those same animals later among those loaded on our ship to go to China.”

Unloading New Zealand sheep in China. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The Lindenwood Victory returned to Shanghai through a severe storm that nearly sent one cowboy into the ocean. While checking on cattle on the bow of the ship, he slid overboard, catching hold of a post and chain to which he hung on for dear life until his partner found him and pulled him back on deck.

The Brethren Service Committee received a letter of commendation for the work of the cattlemen on the Lindenwood Victory from UNRRA’s Agricultural Rehabilitation Officer for New Zealand in Shanghai. “No one could wish to meet a finer set of gentlemen who so conscientiously and diligently carried out the work assigned to them,” Bill Huse wrote. “I feel sure you must feel proud of these boys who have earned the respect and admiration of all the New Zealand people with whom they come in contact.”

Also appreciative of the cowboys’ work and the live gifts they delivered were the orphanages, hospitals, blind schools, leprosariums, etc. who received the heifers sent by the Heifer Project. UNRRA’s Regional Agricultural Rehabilitation Officer in Hangchow, China, summarized the sentiments of these institutions in an April 1947 letter to the Church of the Brethren: “Be assured that these far-off friends of yours are deeply and daily grateful to you for your good deeds in their behalf.”

Children of the Southern Baptist Mission orphanage. Photo credit: George Weybright.

 

UNRRA’s and Heifer Project’s first shipment of cattle to China – Part IV

A busy Shanghai street, January 1947. Photo credit: George Weybright.

The sights and sounds of 1947 Shanghai left memorable impressions on the seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory. Beyond the typical images of Dragon dances, kites, hand-embroidered silk items, hand-painted porcelain, and hand-carved wooden figures, Les Messamer remembers the rhythm of the city.

In observing the disproportionate weight being carried on the ends of bamboo poles by people who were small in stature, he says, “They moved in a rhythm that coincided with the up and down bounce of the bamboo pole. I was told that if an American tried to pick up a bamboo pole with heavy objects on each end, they would probably break the pole. That same rhythm could be heard at any time anywhere. I called it a ‘ching, ching, ching, ching’ cadence.” The rhythm came through “tinny loudspeakers on street corners with radio broadcasts of music”; through children’s clapping hands, chanting voices, and clanging together of tin cans and blocks of wood; through the sound of unfamiliar musical instruments coming out of buildings. “People walked with that rhythm,” he says, “taking steps differently than Americans. The rhythm was definitely a part of every one and everything.”

While the cattle were being unloaded, the seagoing cowboys stayed in the New Asia Hotel. The hotel housed UNRRA staff, and UNRRA trucks took cowboys to see the sights. Photo courtesy of Donn Kesler.

On a less appealing note, the regular seamen had described Shanghai to the cowboys as “the largest, noisiest, smelliest, dirtiest, most crowded city in the world.” Harold Hersch’s diary illustrates the point. “Bicycle rickshaws and human rickshaws crowd the streets,” he noted. “Buildings are terribly poor, many are just grass or sod huts; also there are many who live on small dingy [sic] junkets on the canal which runs through the town. The town is filthy and unsanitary, men and women alike urinate and relieve their bowels openly on the main street so that piles of human dung are thick on the sidewalks.” Another day he reported, “The stench was strong in many places of human bowel waste, even in a temperature of 30°.” Nevertheless, Hersch noted, “People were courteous and helpful despite their filth, and apparently healthy.”

A home on the street. Photo credit: George Weybright.

“This was before the Communists had come in,” says cowboy Richard Reiste, “and life was very, very difficult for a lot of people. There were people who never got off their boat, did all their trading and everything from the boat. There were poor people who had no home. They might have a mat to lean up against the wall and another mat to lay on at night. That was their only shelter. And a truck came around in the morning to carry the dead people away. We saw a lot of tragic things like that.”

Life seemed to hold little value. Messamer recalls seeing a dead baby tossed into the street as if it were a dead rat, and there it stayed for three days before being removed. He also witnessed a man falling onto the dock from some 15 or 20 feet up. Another man rushed up to him. “I assumed this was to help,” says Messamer, “but was dismayed when he began laughing and kicking him.”

The cattle barns outside Shanghai next to the remains of the horse race track amphitheater. Photo credit: George Weybright.

As for the animals, Harold Hersch noted that the Chinese dock workers “love the cattle and wouldn’t dare hurt one of them.” From the pens on the dock, the cattle “were loaded onto trucks and driven about five miles to the campus of the Shanghai University where four cattle barns had been erected for the purpose. . . . Adjoining the grounds on which the barns are erected is a great amphitheater which used to overlook the world’s largest horse race-track, but which during the Japanese occupation was used as Japanese military headquarters and consequently was bombed by the AAF and ruined.”

Some of the cows found their way to an orphanage, and some of the cowboys got to see the children take their first drink of milk. A hopeful sign that the program would have some value.

Chinese children line up to receive their cup of milk. Photo credit: John Morehouse.

That value came home to Les Messamer more than fifty years after his trip in an unexpected way. He took a newspaper article written in Chinese about the arrival of the heifers in Shanghai to a local Chinese restaurant he frequented to see if the Chinese owner could translate it for him. He says,

The mother and her adult son read the page, occasionally stopping to talk to each other in Chinese. They eventually asked if I was one of them in the picture and I pointed to it. Instead of telling me what it said, they began profusely thanking me. They were able to tell me that careful records had been kept and that there were still descendants of the cattle that we took that were there – that the program of giving the first heifer from the cows to another place had continued. That was all good to hear, but they still did not translate the newspaper page to me.

 

Next post: On to New Zealand

Harold Hersch diary excerpts courtesy of Heifer International; Les Messamer quotes from email correspondence; Richard Reiste quotes from oral interview.