Looking back 75 years: UNRRA’s first livestock shipment to Poland, Part II—Impressions of Gdansk

According to seagoing cowboy supervisor John Steele, the S. S. Virginian was the first merchant ship to enter Gdansk, Poland, after World War II. Whether this is true or not, I cannot confirm. At any rate, the cowboys were warmly welcomed by the Polish people—and sorely dismayed by the destruction around them.

“We were all day getting through Danzig Bay,” notes Lloyd Pepple in his journal. “These waters are still very dangerous. There is just a narrow lane through them. There are many sunken ships here, some with their upper parts above the water and some below the surface and only an experienced pilot can take a ship through.

“Danzig (Gdansk) is certainly dead and forlorn looking,” Pepple says, “and it certainly does arouse some strong feeling against the Hitler gang who would do and cause such destruction and murder. I have already found several persons with whom I could talk German and two with whom I could talk real well. And from one and all I heard the sad, tragic story of first German and then Russian looting, murder, and worse things. It is hard to suppress one’s emotions.”

Nowy Port, Poland, dock area where livestock were unloaded. October 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

The ship docked in Nowy Port, the port city for Gdansk, around 5:00 p.m. that Monday, October 1. Everett Petry writes of Russian officers and soldiers everywhere and choosing to stay on board that night in the safety and warmth of the ship. He speaks of Russians in their long, heavy coats and barefooted children in shorts with their legs blue from the cold.

Ken Kortemeier notes, however, that most of the children wore a smile. “They tell us 9/10 of Danzig is destroyed,” Kortemeier says. Bub Erbaugh adds, “The buildings have big holes in them, and a lot of buildings just aren’t.” A foretaste of what’s to come.

Horse lifted off the S. S. Virginian in Nowy Port, Poland, October 2, 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

Bright and early the next morning, the Polish stevedores got to work unloading the horses and heifers. “They unloaded with a flying stall,” says Pepple. “It is a big box, big enough to hold a horse. They pull it out of the bottom of the ship with winches and set it out on the street. Then they lead the horse away. Sometimes it takes 4 or 5 men to hold them.”

Corralling a horse on the docks of Nowy Port, Poland, October 2, 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

The 16-year-old S. S. Virginian captain’s son, who served as one of the cowboys, likened the unloading of the cattle to the streets of downtown Cheyenne. “They went whacko, jumping and bucking,” he said, “after being confined so long at sea.”

First heifers shipped into Poland by UNRRA after World War II, October 2, 1945. Photo courtesy of Bub Erbaugh.

That afternoon, a group of cowboys took a crowded, shot-up tram into Gdansk and witnessed more of the realities of war. “We didn’t see one building that was not hit with bombs or machine gun fire,” Pepple says. “It is a terrible sight.”

First seagoing cowboys to witness the destruction of Gdansk, Poland, after World War II. October 1945. Photo courtesy of Harry Kauffman.

We saw street cars still on the tracks all shot full of holes,” says Pepple. “They said the conductor and all the passengers were killed in these cars. We saw an old prison that had 800 Polish prisoners of war in it. The Germans set it afire and burned them up alive. You could see human bones all over it. There was nothing left of it but the walls.”

Everett Petry writes of the odors of bodies still buried in the rubble, the remarkable ability of the Polish people to push on amidst such destruction, and how the mention of “UNRRA,” in which they put their hope, would bring smiles to people’s faces.

Harry Kauffman stayed in the port that afternoon and the next day, talking with people who could speak German. And he heard the stories of the cowboys who had gone into Gdansk. “Tonight I write these lines with a heavy heart,” he notes in his journal, “unashamed that my eyes are swimming with tears at the things I have seen and heard. Tomorrow the Commissioner of Agriculture for Poland which is working for the UNRRA has arranged to take us on an all day tour.” He would see some of World War II’s horrors for himself.

To be continued

Looking back 75 years: UNRRA’s first livestock shipment to Poland, Part I—The Voyage

On September 1, 1945, John Steele, of Goshen, Indiana, left his feed, coal, and building supply business in the hands of his employees to oversee a crew of seagoing cowboys on the first UNRRA shipment to Poland after World War II. What had been billed to him as a six-week trip kept him away from home for three months. Even so, he considers the trip the highlight of his life.

S. S. Virginian crew, September 1945. Photo courtesy of Lowell Erbaugh.

Steele arrived at the docks in Jersey City only to find his ship, the S. S. Virginian, in dry dock for repairs. On September 10, his 30 cow hands joined him aboard the massive merchant vessel built in 1903, which had seen service in two world wars and still bore some of its guns. The gun decks offered a prime view of New York City across the Hudson River. “The sight is marvelous,” writes cowboy Ken Kortemeier in his diary. The Empire State Building stood conspicuous on the skyline “with a small section near the top darkened as a result of the tragic B-25 crash.”

Kortemeier notes that the Queen Mary pulled in that morning with 14,000 troops aboard. “It fills one with emotion to see them line the deck, peering out of portholes eager to see and set foot on the land they love.”

On the night of September 13, two tug boats nudged the ship on its way. Kortemeier says, “It was a great sensation going down the harbor seeing the majestic New York City skyline light up as usual and fading slowly in the background. The Statue of Liberty was an inspirational sight as she stood there. Flood lights were on her and her torch was really burning. One of the last landmarks of New York that could be seen was Coney Island all lit up with the old Ferris wheel of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair well in the foreground. One could see automobiles as they sped along the boulevards bordering the River. Lights faded out and we ventured forth on the dark Atlantic with lighthouses winking at us as if it were now our turn.”

The S. S. Virginian. Photo by Elwood Geiger.

After their first day of work, the cowboys bonded at the stern of the ship with the first of many song fests, singing gospel and secular numbers after a short business meeting. “It was great,” says Kortemeier, “and the moon helped us by giving a silvery effect to the sea. Oh yes, sea, moon, and stars were there, but that is not all. God was there. Let the tempests rage, and the sea roar — remember still that the small voice speaketh and the men aboard this ship tonight are in His care.”

Despite smooth sailing the first five days, many of the cowboys got seasick. One cowboy upchucked 12 times the first day out. He remembers hanging over the toilet and pushing the flush button with his head. “We managed to get our work done even if we were sick,” says his partner. “We had canned corn quite often, and we’d say we kind of liked it because it tasted the same coming up as it did going down.”

The fifth day out, “the sea was extra rough,” notes Kortemeier, “and preparations were made for stormy weather. Several tons of straw piled high on the hatch were thrown overboard in the hope of making the ship less top-heavy.” But the real tests came as the Virginian neared the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland. After missing a collision with a small Danish ship by only about ten feet in a dense fog, the Virginian entered the dangerous waters of the North Sea. “Life boats were hung over side today so they can be released by merely slashing the rope,” Kortemeier notes. “Also, a watch (constant) is being maintained for mines. Thank God that we now have peace and we do not need to worry about subs. The fact of having a safe night is now brought up every morning in devotions.”

Even though mapped, mines at times broke off from their moorings. The Virginian missed one by about 40 yards off the coast of Norway on September 28. The next morning, Kortemeier notes, “we got a radio report from a ship sinking because it hit a mine in the area where we were yesterday.” Another close call.

The Virginian finally reached the harbor at Danzig on October 1. Kortemeier says, “I was moved to tears for the first time on this voyage as we came up the canal at Danzig. Oh, what ruin and devastation. The people were waiting for us, and the big sign says — heartily welcome in Gdansk. What a scene! Nearly every building gutted. We expect to go ashore tomorrow.”

Nowy Port, Poland, October 1945. Photo by Harry Kauffman.

Second UNRRA livestock ship departed the United States 75 years ago today

This is the second of two posts I made five years ago that I’m repeating in June to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the start of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy program.

Five Elizabethtown College students make 2nd UNRRA ship out,
but arrive first in Greece.

This post will set the record straight for a friendly little rivalry that has taken place through the years between the Manchester College students and the Elizabethtown College students who were on the first two UNRRA livestock ships to depart the United States the end of June 1945.

When I first talked with Gordon Bucher about his trip on the F. J. Luckenbach to Greece  that left New Orleans June 24, 1945, he wanted to know, “Wasn’t ours the first ship to leave the U. S.?” Having found the UNRRA records, I was able to tell him, “Yes.” The Elizabethtown cowboys who departed from Baltimore on the S.S. Virginian June 26, 1945, had always said they were on the first ship out. But diary accounts from the two trips and the UNRRA records show otherwise.

Turns out, it was an honest mistake on the part of the E-town cowboys, as even the media thought this to be the first shipment. The Baltimore Sun newspaper said on June 25, 1945:

GREECE CATTLE SAILS TODAY
UNRRA Shipment To Be First Consignment
Laden with 704 head of dairy cattle and horses, the first consignment of such animals to be sent to a European country by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the freighter Virginian will leave Baltimore today for Greece, where the livestock will be used in an agricultural rehabilitation program . . . .

The F. J. Luckenbach had already left New Orleans when this article went to press, and the Virginian didn’t leave port until a day after the article appeared, if the date typed under the article given to me is correct. Other media gave the same story, including the August 1945 Baltimore & Ohio Magazine:

First UNRRA Livestock Shipment for Europe Rides B&O

The article tells of the arrival to Baltimore of 335 Brown Swiss bred heifers and twelve bulls and 357 light draft mares on the B&O railway. It goes on to say:

This “first shipment” created a great deal of interest among the UNRRA people and various publicity agencies. The Coast Guard, Life, the Baltimore papers and the newsreel agencies all had photographers on the job . . . .

All of this while the Luckenbach was already on its way.

But alas, the Luckenbach was not to be the first to arrive in Greece. The Virginian, departing closer to Europe, arrived at its destination of Piraeus, Greece, the port for Athens, on Saturday, July 14.

First heifer to Greece.

A proud Greek poses with the first UNRRA heifer to put foot on European soil. Photo courtesy of Kate  Holderman.

The Luckenbach arrived in Patras, Greece, two days later on Monday, July 16. Both crews were able to visit the Acropolis, with a short $5.00 taxi ride for the Virginian crew and a hair-raising bus ride across the Peloponnese peninsula for the Luckenbach crew that almost made them miss their ship home.

Members of the S. S. Virginian crew at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

After unloading in Greece, both ships also stopped in Naples to pick up U. S. soldiers who had fought in Europe during the war to take them home – 140 for the Virginian and 150 for the Luckenbach. The Luckenbach, however, arrived home first. Their entire cargo was unloaded in Patras, after which they were ready to return home; whereas the Virginian unloaded only part of its cargo in Piraeus and then traveled further up around Greece to Salonika to unload the rest. Even with a stop in Béni Saf to pick up iron ore after picking up their soldiers in Naples, the Luckenbach had a considerable head start on the Virginian, arriving in New York City ten days ahead of them on August 10. They were met with a rousing welcome home for the soldiers on Staten Island complete with a WAC band playing the “Beer Barrel Polka” and a black band playing hot jazz, before finally docking in Jersey City. The Virginian delivered their soldiers to Newport News and finally docked in Brooklyn on August 20. No matter which ship they were on, the cowboys were glad to be back on U. S. soil.

Sources: Gordon Bucher’s unpublished journal and the report of the S.S. Virginian crew titled “Relief for Greece.”

Seagoing Cowboy program began 75 years ago this month!

For my regular June posts, I’ll be repeating two that I made five years ago about the first two trips of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy program.  Seventy-five years ago this month, those first crews were being put together and sent to sea.

How ten Manchester College students ended up
on the first UNRRA cattle boat to Europe.

When UNRRA contacted M. R. Zigler, the executive of the Brethren Service Committee, in late spring of 1945 to say they had a ship ready, M. R., with his vast network of contacts, got on the phone and put the Brethren grapevine in action. Among other things, word was sent to the Brethren colleges, which by that time had completed their academic years and were gearing up for their summer sessions. Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, was one of those schools.

MC grad Keith Horn recalls having seen a notice on a bulletin board at the college about a ship going overseas with animals. Others learned of the trip through the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference being held at Manchester that year. On its opening day, June 6, 1945, the Brethren Service Committee brought news to the Conference: “Relief soon may be possible from the church in America to the church in Europe,” including “heifers by freight shipment.” M. R. Zigler spoke the next day of “news of big shipments.” In just a short time from UNRRA’s first call to M. R. much had transpired – from one vessel to big shipments.

These reports created a buzz throughout the campus. People talked about it on the sidewalks, in their rooms, over dinner – and it was while waiting on tables in the old Oakwood dining hall that Manchester student Ken Frantz learned of the need for cattle attendants.

In all, ten Manchester College students signed up for this first cattle boat trip. The Gospel Messenger reported that there were 135 students enrolled in the Manchester summer session of 1945. Take ten of those students away, and the college lost over 7% of their student body that summer! But President Schwalm was supportive, as Richard Moomaw, a student leader on campus, relates. When he went to talk with the President to get permission to un-enroll, President Schwalm told him, “So many people are going, you should go, too!”

Because it was mostly a rural denomination, UNRRA had felt the Church of the Brethren would have enough men on farm deferment to provide the cattle attendants for their ships. But there was another deferment that figured into this story, as well – the ministerial deferment. Many of the MC students who went fell into this category. To maintain this status with the draft board, they had to be in school all year round – and that’s why so many of them were in summer school. But whatever the deferment, these students had to get permission from their draft boards to leave the country. Ken Frantz, who lived in North Manchester, recalls that he had no trouble with his Board in Wabash. But it was a different story for his brother Dean, who was living in Sydney, Indiana, at the time. The Kosciusko County Draft Board refused to let him go, or he would have been on the ship with Ken, too.

For many of these students, this was something positive they could do to help put a broken world back together again. Gordon Bucher recalls that his mother, in particular, wasn’t too keen on his going. He was just 19, the war was just over, and she was afraid for his safety. But Gordon stood firm. He said to her, “a lot of people have been endangered for the last four years. We hope to do something good, whether we’re in danger or not.” It was a form of service and ministry for many of the cowboys. And two of them – Floyd Bantz and Ken Frantz – even postponed their weddings from early summer to late summer to be able to go.

In a very short period of time, the ten Manchester students had made their applications, gotten their draft board permissions, and were on the train to New Orleans by June 13. They sailed on June 24, 1945, on the S.S. F. J. Luckenbach headed for Greece with 588 horses and 26 cattle attendants on board – the first of the 360 UNRRA livestock trips made between 1945 and 1947.

F. J. Luckenbach crew at the Acropolis.

The F. J. Luckenbach crew in Greece, July 1945. For whatever reason, the cowboys on this ship were not allowed to take cameras on board. This is the only known picture from this trip, likely taken by an unidentified professional Greek photographer at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Ken Frantz.

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #4 – The Noah Theory

There’s a story connected with the March 1947 trip of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia that I would put in the category of legend. The story was told some 35 years after the trip to seagoing cowboy Howard Lord and a hand full of other cowboys from that trip by one of their two foremen whom I will leave unnamed.

The foreman, Lord says, “started talking about the ‘Noah Theory,’ The officials were convinced that there would be a third world war, and since it was after 1945 it would be a nuclear, atomic war. Where would be the best place in the world to start over? And what would you need to start over? They sent some of the livestock on our ship to Greece as a cover up, a smoke screen. The rest of the cattle, and the sheep, and the mules, and the chickens went to Ethiopia to start over again. If there was a third world war, the last place they’d hit would be Ethiopia. If that was an actual theory that was part of our shipment, we never knew it. Nobody except our supervisor and two foremen knew it.”

A jack aboard the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Roosters on their way to Ethiopia on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

It’s a theory for which I’ve found no confirmation. I found nothing in the UNRRA files I researched in the United Nations archives, nor in any Heifer Project archives I’ve gone through, that would give even a hint of credence to this theory.

George Woodbridge’s history of UNRRA, volume two, tells of the devastation that took place in Ethiopia from six years of Italian occupation in World War II and of the needs and the difficulties in meeting those needs due to collapsed infrastructure and murder of the educated segment of the population. The Brethren Service Committee worked with UNRRA to provide cattle through the Heifer Project for regeneration of their herds and provided five men, as well, who stayed a year to teach the use of modern agricultural machinery and techniques.

Cattle stranded in the streets of Djibouti after unloading off the Rock Springs Victory. The railroad was out between Djibouti and Cairo, delaying passage on to Addis Ababa. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

There were, to be sure, a variety of animals sent to Ethiopia on this, the one and only, UNRRA livestock trip to Ethiopia. After the first offloading of nearly half the Rock Springs Victory animals in Greece, UNRRA reports the following for Ethiopia: 323 cattle, both heifers and bulls of beef and dairy breeds (of which 248 were sent as gifts from the Heifer Project per their report); 3 jacks; 60 sheep; and 117 chickens. This variety of animals would fall far short of what would be needed for restarting a world’s agriculture.

Delivering UNRRA roosters and chickens in Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Transporting cattle to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The origin of the “Noah Theory” remains a mystery. A story spun by one of the ship’s regular crew, perhaps, who wanted to have some fun with the seagoing cowboy leaders, swearing them to secrecy? We’ll likely never know.

Heifer Project and UNRRA cattle grazing outside Addis Ababa, Egypt, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The hope for this shipment, scribbled in notes of then Executive Secretary of Heifer Project Benjamin Bushing, was that Ethiopia would become the “Bread Basket of the Middle East for years to come.”

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #2 – Greece, Suez Canal, and Djibouti

Another unique experience of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory seagoing cowboy crew of March 1947 was delivering Heifer Project animals to Ethiopia. They were one of only two UNRRA livestock crews to travel through the Suez Canal and the only one to deliver animals to the African continent. The other UNRRA ship, the S. S. Carroll Victory, after unloading their initial live cargo in Greece, was sent down to South Africa to pick up a load of horses and deliver them back to Greece – twice.

Like the S. S. Carroll Victory, the Rock Springs Victory stopped in Greece on their way where they unloaded part of UNRRA’s cargo of horses, mules, and cattle in Piraeus, Athen’s port city. Howard Lord’s first impression in Greece was of the hunger. “It just floored me,” he says. “Then here came a little train all decorated up like Christmas. It was their Independence Day in Greece! And I thought, well, they’re able to celebrate.”

Celebrating Greece’s Independence Day, March 25, 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

Like all cowboys to Piraeus, they also took in the Greek antiquities around Athens.

Touring the Acropolis, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The next leg of the journey took them through Suez Canal, into the Red Sea, and on down the coast of eastern Africa to Djibouti, the capital city of what was then French Somaliland and the port for land-locked Ethiopia.

“We saw lots of wrecked ships and old destroyed tanks from World War II in the Suez Canal,” notes cowboy Stanley Wakeman. Among other things.

Beach huts along the Suez Canal, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

As they sailed on, it got hotter and hotter, from “Very hot” in Wakeman’s journal on March 28 in the Suez Canal, to “105° in the shade” the next day in the Red Sea, to “VERY VERY HOT – 120º” on April 2 in Djibouti. An exaggeration, perhaps? Lord recalls it being “98 degrees all day – every day [in Djibouti]!”

A whole new world awaited there. Because of the lack of an adequate dock, the Rock Springs Victory had to anchor itself offshore and unload the animals and feed into barges, maybe 30 to 40 feet long and 12 feet wide.

Unloading cattle and feed off the S. S. Rock Springs Victory off the shore of Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“They’d load the barge full of cattle,” Lord says, “and a young man with a pole would stick it against the bottom of the water and poled that barge into the dock, barely able to move it. Just one single guy with one pole. He’d have to move from side to side. It was really somethin’.”

A sole laborer poling a load of cattle into Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

On shore, the cowboys must have been as much a curiosity to the Africans as the Africans were to them. These cowboys saw sights no other crew had seen.

Cowboys roaming the area around Djibouti encounter some camels. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

With no common language, the Americans took raisins with them to barter for souvenirs. That’s how cowboy Bob Heimberger acquired the metal cup the crew used for their Easter Sunday Communion on their return voyage.

Trading raisins to Djibouti residents for souvenirs, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

For six members of the crew, the voyage was just beginning in Djibouti.

Seagoing cowboys heading on to assignments in Ethiopia, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Five had been selected by the Brethren Service Committee for a special assignment to accompany the cattle to Ethiopia, where they were to stay for a year at the request of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to train the Ethiopians how to breed and care for the livestock and teach the use of modern farm machinery and agricultural methods. The sixth, a Methodist missionary, would travel on to his project in the Belgian Congo. The remainder of the cowboy crew headed back with their ship to New York City.

Next post: Monkey business on the Rock Springs Victory

Seagoing Cowboy excursion turns tragic

Not all seagoing cowboy stories had a happy ending. The trip of the S. S. Henry Dearborn in February 1947 was sailing along like any other. The 177 UNRRA horses, 176 UNRRA cattle, and 113 Heifer Project goats had been offloaded in Brindisi, Italy, where they were to be ferried on to Albania.

Postcard from Brindisi, Italy, February 1947. Courtesy of C. H. Beam.

After a week of sightseeing for the cowboys there and a stop in Bari, Italy, to pick up cargo for ballast, an intended short stop in Catania, Sicily, turned deadly.

Postcard from Catania, Sicily. Courtesy of C. H. Beam.

The lure of Mt. Etna, about twenty miles inland and erupting at the time, enticed ten of the cowboys and their foreman to hire a truck for 8,000 lire to take them up the mountain. “It was a nice trip up,” says Iowa cowboy Dale Wicks. “All the way up the mountain was farms. It was all terraced. There would be a stone wall, then a strip six or eight feet wide, then there would be another stone wall. It was all farmed that way. It looked like stair steps going up the mountain.

“There was snow on Mt. Etna. We didn’t get clear to the top, just as far as we could go by truck. It looked as though we could walk, but since our time was limited we didn’t get to. We started down about four o’clock. Jesse Ziegler, the foreman of our crew, made the remark, ‘This trip was the best thing we had had on the trip.’ It wasn’t until about fifteen minutes later until he was dead.”

The truck, as it turned out, had faulty brakes. “The driver was depending on shifting down to hold the speed down,” says Wicks. “When he went to shift down one time, he couldn’t get it in gear. He didn’t have enough brakes to hold it, so we just kept goin’ faster and faster. Most of us riding in the open back of the truck knew it would probably crash, so we huddled up against the back of the cab.” Three cowboys jumped out, two suffering major and minor bruises and one a broken wrist.

Out of control, the truck crashed into one of the stone walls and flipped over into a ravine. Ziegler, riding in the cab, Paul Glick, and Joseph Connellen were killed almost instantly. Four, including Wicks, were unconscious. The driver fled the scene. Some men going up the mountain in a horse-drawn cart came to the rescue, loading up the injured. They soon met a truck and transferred the injured to the truck for the ride to the hospital in Catania.

“It wasn’t much of a hospital,” Wicks recalls. Supplies were low after the war. “When I woke up, I was in bed with all of my clothes, even my shoes, on. Sanitation was very poor. None of the boys with broken bones were given anesthetic to set them. They were left two or three days before they did anything with them. You could hear them holler for quite a ways.”

The Des Moines Tribune picked up the news from the Associated Press. Courtesy of Dale Wicks family.

Eight days after the accident, UNRRA flew the six hospitalized cowboys to a U.S. Army hospital in Naples. Five of them were released two days later. They were checked into an UNRRA hotel and enjoyed seeing the sights until UNRRA finally found passage home for them on a ship filled mostly with war brides.

It was touch and go for the sixth cowboy, David Roy. His parents received a telegram saying he was in serious condition with a fractured left tibia and a severe laceration to his right knee complicated with gas gangrene. After his transfer to Naples, he also developed tetanus. His wife Jean says, “He has been told that he is only one of a few survivors of both tetanus and gas gangrene (from that period).”

For the cowboys not involved in the accident and the survivors well enough to board the ship, the trip home was a sober one. “They told us that the Steamship Co., Red Cross and American Consul would take care of the injured and the dead and notifying the next of kin,” Jesse Ziegler’s nephew George wrote to his mother. “The crew feels pretty bad about the bad luck and of course, we cowboys that are left do too. Flag flies at half mast.”

Heifer Project Executive Secretary Benjamin Bushong happened to be in Italy at the time of the accident. His attempts to have the bodies of the deceased cowboys shipped home failed when he could find no one to embalm them. “The Italians just don’t do things that way,” he said. They were moved instead to Palermo, Italy, where Brethren Service Committee worker Eugene Lichty, stationed in Carrara, and a Waldensian Church pastor conducted the funeral service. “These three bodies were placed in a beautiful small Protestant Cemetery on the edge of the city with a high mountain to the rear and the Sea in the opposite direction,” says Bushong.

After arriving home, Wicks suffered for ten years with terrible pain in his hip. When the doctors finally operated they found pocket after pocket of pus where bits of cinders had embedded themselves when Wicks slid over the lava-laden ground. Despite his injuries, he says, “I never was sorry I went. It was a very meaningful experience for me.”

Dale and Ruth Wicks, July 1, 2006. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Next post: The wives who were left behind.

A Seagoing Cowboy Romance

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to relate a seagoing cowboy romance story. In June 1945, two programs of the Brethren Service Committee pulled together a farm boy from Indiana and a college girl from California.

As World War II came to an end in Europe, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) laid plans for shipping livestock that June to help Europe’s farmers rebuild. When the Brethren Service Committee (BSC) agreed to recruit the cattle tenders UNRRA would need, a call went out through the church and to its college campuses for men to serve. Manchester College freshman Earl Holderman responded and found himself on the way to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, arriving June 13.

The Brethren Service Center, a former college campus purchased by the Brethren Service Committee the previous September, was humming away as a collection center for clothing and other war relief activities. LaVerne [CA] College juniors Kathryn Root and Bernice Brandt responded to a call for short-term volunteers to work at the center on their summer vacation. After a three-and-a-half day cross-country train ride, Katy and Bernie arrived at the Brethren Service Center Saturday, June 9.

Windsor Hall at the Brethren Service Center served as the girls’ dormitory. Photo: Ken West.

“Our part of the work is carried on in a huge room on the 1st floor of the Girl’s Dorm,” says Katy in her journal Monday, June 11. “There are boxes stacked clear to the ceiling to be opened. It is interesting work – sorting, mending, labeling, baling, stenciling, cutting out new materials, receiving made up garments. We feel happy about each bale that is finished.”

Bernie and Katy outside their dormitory. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

Her happiness scale perked up a little more that Wednesday. She notes, “The fellas who are to tend the shipload of cattle going overseas are beginning to arrive….When we came down at 5:00 to eat supper, the guys from Indiana were sitting on the steps. They looked at us & we sorta looked at them – that was all there was to it. After supper, we had a good time getting acquainted with them….Earl Holderman and Gordon Keever were the two most interesting.”

The next day, Katy notes, “Well —- I got better acquainted with one of the cattle fellas this evening. After supper, Earl Holderman suggested that Bernie and I show him around – so we did….He asked me to go to the skating party with him the next night.”

Earl Holderman at the Brethren Service Center. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

After the skating party, “Earl and I sat on the gym steps for quite a while and talked. He’s surely nice. He will be 21 in July. He is about 5’9″ tall – has a good build – nice brown eyes, brown hair, a nice big grin and a wonderful personality. He is very well mannered. He stayed out of school for 2 years between High School and College and farmed with his Dad. I surely wish he wasn’t leaving here so soon. We’ll hardly have time to get acquainted before they leave.”

It was time enough, however, for Earl to know Katy was the girl he wanted. After only four days, Katy notes on Sunday, “He wanted me to take his class ring – I didn’t know whether to or not. It’s all happened so quickly that I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath. I wish I knew more about him – Indiana is such a long way from California.”

Earl was not to be daunted by her refusal. His attentions continued up to the night before he was to leave to report to his ship. Eight days after they met, Katie says, “I hated like fury to have tonight end….I’m so afraid he might not get back from overseas before we go home. He gave me his ring and this time I took it. Hope I’m not making a mistake!”

Earl was able to get back to the Center for a night before his ship left. “He wants me to be his girl for always,” Katy says. “I just didn’t know what to say.”

Pursued by one of the Civilian Public Service guys stationed at the Center while Earl was gone, Katy stayed true to her commitment to Earl, even with doubts along the way. Letters flowed both directions. Katy told of the goings on at the Center and a whirlwind weekend with the girls to New York City, full of Broadway shows, automat food, and shopping; and being awakened Saturday morning by an “awful crash,” later seeing the Empire State Building on fire “way up towards the top” where a plane had crashed into it.

Earl wrote of being seasick the second day out, “feeding the fish” more than 21 times. But he got his sea legs and wrote about seeing the ancient ruins around Athens, then Salonica; of the dangerous waters around Greece they were in where ships were sunk by mines the week before; and of seeing a volcano erupt off the coast of Naples.

Some of Earl’s crew at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

Earl’s ship got back the beginning of Katy’s last week at the Center. Before he left, he had asked her to join his family at their cabin on Lake Syracuse for a week if he got back in time. He asked her again on his return, and Katy did. She had a grand time meeting his family.

Katy and Earl at his home in Nappanee, Indiana, August 1945. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

Katy returned to LaVerne to finish her degree. Earl returned to Manchester for a semester and then moved to California where Katy’s uncle gave him a job. They married December 29, 1946, and celebrated 59 anniversaries before Earl died in 2006.

Seagoing Cowboy Program Turns 75 this year!

Happy New Year to my faithful readers!

This year will mark the 75th anniversary of many significant events surrounding the end of World War II. Besides the end of fighting, the event that excites me most is the beginning of UNRRA’s seagoing cowboy program, initiated with UNRRA’s first shipment of June 24, 1945. I look forward to sharing bits of this history with you throughout the year – a history of helping a war-torn world rebuild.

For starters, let’s look at what the seagoing cowboy experience entailed as spelled out in a document titled “Information for Livestock Attendants.”

The following information comes from men who have already been to Europe as livestock attendants and is backed by their experience.

Handling of Animals

  1. Attendants should have and should exhibit a natural love for animals – a calm voice, with gentle treatment and manners, with no evidence of fear, is most effective.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Adrian Victory tend the horses on way to Greece, Oct. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Attendants should check carefully the eating habits and bodily functions of animals under their care and should report irregularities to the veterinarian at once.
  3. Each attendant will feed, water and care for 25 to 35 animals (cows, heifers, horses, mules, bulls) under the supervision of the veterinarian and the supervisor.
  4. Each man should assume his duties willingly and discharge them faithfully. This is not a pleasure ship.
  5. Cleaning should be done daily, as per instructions.

    Luke Bomberger cleans cattle stalls on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  6. Be diligent in keeping watch – sometimes a delay of 15 minutes may mean the life of an animal under your charge.

Customs Aboard Ship

  1. It is well to have a talk with the ship’s captain or one of the mates before putting out to sea to learn the practices aboard ship, to discover what suggestions he may have regarding conduct of the crew aboard ship, privileges, responsibilities and general conduct. Remember the captain is the absolute master of all aboard his ship.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Carroll Victory watch chief engineer and mate cut chain. 1947. Photo: Charles Lord.

  2. Be friendly at all times with the ship’s regular crew. Let nothing disturb that relationship. Crew members respect character in others and expect to be treated as gentlemen.

    Luke Bomberger gets a tour of the engine room on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  3. Ignore the caste system aboard ship and don’t let it disturb you.
  4. Do not abuse dining hall privileges. Snacks at night are for men who are on duty. When using this privilege when on duty, men must assume their part in cleaning up.
  5. Danger of fire at sea is terrific. Refrain from smoking.
  6. Men should be sure their mailing address is understood and forwarded to their homes before leaving. There are many uncertainties and do not be too much disturbed if mail does not reach you.

    Seagoing cowboy Bob Richards made sure his crew on the S. S. Virginian knew their mailing address. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

Conduct in Foreign Ports

  1. One can reflect credit or discredit upon the organization and the people he represents by the way he conducts himself among strangers. Be sensible – act discreetly and with an open, frank friendliness toward the people in the foreign ports. Act like Christians at all times.

    Shopping at the open air market in Trieste, Italy, Feb. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Never try to violate port rules or to evade port inspector’s regulations.
  3. Plan your own shore tours with competent guides. Ignore “gate offers”. Consult the UNRRA representative who boards the ship, the U.S. consul, and if available representatives of private relief agencies, cooperatives, Red Cross, church men, FOR members, et al.
  4. Crew members and livestock attendants are faced with the temptation to trade with black market operators in foreign ports. Cigarette sales, as well as sales of clothing at exorbitant prices are temptations to many of our men. Faced with such a situation one must keep in mind his purpose in coming to Europe. He has come to the people with help – not to help exploit them.

To be continued…

Nanorta Goes to Greece – Part II

Today’s post continues the trip of “Nanorta” from farm to Greece and the seagoing cowboys who delivered her, as told through diary accounts of Jim Long and photos from his father’s movie footage and slides taken on the trip.

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Villanova Victory, July 1946. L to R, Rev. George Kimsey, Richard Lambert, Darwin Overholt, Arthur Houk, Frank Melick (back), Rev. Wilmer H. Long (front), Jim Long, Harry Herbert.

Most of the Victory ships used by UNRRA carried around 800 animals, requiring 32 seagoing cowboys for their care. The Villanova Victory, however, was one of a few ships that carried livestock on the top deck only, requiring only 8 cowboys.

Rev. Long takes care of “Nanorta,” a heifer sent by his church.

On the two-week trip from Newport News, Virginia, to Kavalla, Greece, the 198 Heifer Project cattle on board kept the cowboys busy with the usual tasks: feeding and watering the animals, tending to newborn calves, and pulling up hay and grain when supplies on deck ran low. And with two ministers in the crew, the cowboys had Sunday morning church services.

Getting hay ready to pull up top on the S. S. Villanova Victory, July 1946.

After a week at sea, Jim noted in his diary, “A freak wave hit the port side, breaking loose the gang way. Deck crew retrieved it. Soon after that a boiler broke down and the ship proceeded at half speed.” Within 24 hours, the boiler was fixed. “Everything else normal,” Jim notes. “The routine is starting to get on my nerves.”

Things became more interesting the next day, however, with the sighting of land and passing the Rock of Gibralter on the way into the Mediterranean Sea. Passing Algiers the next evening, Jim writes, “It was very beautiful with lights stretching for several miles.” On reaching Greece, he notes, “We saw many islands and a beautiful sunset.” And fifteen days after departing Newport News, the destination about 250 miles north of Athens came into sight. The small city of Kavalla (Neapolis of the Bible), on the northern end of the Aegean Sea, stretched out in front of them with the ancient world awaiting their exploration.

Kavalla, Greece, August 6, 1946.

Among the many sights the cowboys took in were the ancient part of Kavalla, the ruins of Phillipi, St. Paul’s jail cell, and the river where St. Paul baptized Lydia.

St. Paul’s jail cell near Philippi, Greece.

The ruins at Philippi.

After ten days in Kavalla, the Villanova Victory made a six-day stop in Piraeus, the port for Athens, to unload the rest of her cargo. This afforded the cowboys the opportunity to tour the Acropolis in Athens and the old and new city of Corinth. “Ancient Corinth has the finest ruins I saw yet,” Jim notes.

Touring the Acropolis.

The trip home included the finding of seven stowaways while sailing through the Mediterranean and an argument with the captain once the ship reached the Atlantic about cleaning the stalls. “We lost,” says Jim. “So we cleaned them up all day.”

The trip also included a rare death at sea. The ship’s Purser died of a heart attack while alone in his cabin and was “put on ice” in the “fish box,” Jim says. After receiving instructions from the Purser’s elderly mother, Jim’s father Rev. Long and the other minister in the crew were told the Purser would be buried at sea and they were to conduct the service. “The Purser’s body was slid down a board and slipped into the sea,” Jim notes. “He was sewed into a canvas bag with two 5″ shell cases and 100 pounds of cement.” A sad, but memorable, event, to be sure.

With the Heifer Project animals being sent to quarantine in Greece before going to their new owners, Jim and his father were unable to go with Nanorta to her new home. But a year after the trip, they received their thanks in a letter from Nanorta’s new owner, a war widow whose husband, along with 300 more Greeks, was killed by the Bulgarians on September 29, 1941.

“I write to thank you and express the joy of all of us,” she said. “Nanorta gives about 10 quarts of milk a day.” The Norristown Times Herald carried the story along with a photo Widow Kallipoi Kl. Karyanni sent with the letter.

Norristow Times Herald, July 31, 1947.

A fitting end to Nanorta’s journey.