It is the story of my maternal grandfather and his adventure as a sea-going cowboy. Since the article has now apperared, I can tell the highlights here, without detracting from the published version. Besides, the journal is not available on news stands, so I am not depriving the publishers of any income.
Here the story:
Right after World War II, my grandfather--or Pappap, as we all called him--volunteered to help rebuild Europe by taking a load of horses to Poland. World War II was incredibly destructive--some 50 million people were displaced through all the fighting. Not only that, but most farm animals had been killed--either as a result of combat, or to be eaten as food for the starving people.
The Allies, anticipating the eventual outcome of the war, got together and planned to rebuild Europe, including restocking farms. The United States took former ships used in battle, and converted them into animal transport ships. They had sailors to sail the ships, but they didn't have cattle hands or farmers to care for the animals.
The peace churches in the United States and Canada--for example Mennonites and Quakers--had won the right to provide service to the country that did NOT require a young man to join the military. One of those ways was farm service. So the United States' government approached the peace churches to help round up men to tend animals during the crossing of the Atlantic.
Here's what the advertisement said, in part:
Here's what the advertisement said, in part:
"Two thousand men wanted to serve as livestock attendants on board ships carrying livestock to Europe to replace killed-off animals. Applicants must be able to work with animals, willing to do manual labor, and of good moral character. Men especially desired who will conduct themselves without reproach in foreign ports. Age 16-60. Trip takes 4 to 6 weeks. Pay $150.00 per trip."
My pappap was 59 years old when he answered this ad! I suspect part of his interest in going to Europe was the sheer adventure of it all. Perhaps another part of his motivation was the fact that his youngest son, my uncle Davey, volunteered to go--at age 18. I can almost hear my pappap saying: If Davey can do it. . .
The ship Pappap sailed on was named Mount Whitney. This was a large ship, with the capacity to transport 1400 animals: mostly horses, with a few heifers. The ship had a crew of 64 sailors, and 75 sea-going cowboys. Pappap was one of two men aged 59--the oldest on the ship.
Their destination was Poland. They sailed January of 1947 with their destination the Polish seaport of Gdansk. This city had been occupied by the Nazis, as had all Poland, but the S.S. made it their particular place. When the Allies advanced on the city, the S.S. troops defended it fiercely--so the Russians, who were the lead Allies, bombed the city almost into oblivion.
My pappap witnessed these scenes of destruction. Buildings were still lying in ruins, rubble everywhere. Orphans roamed the streets during the day, begging anyone for food. Women helped to clear piles of bricks, readying the place for rebuilding.
During their Atlantic crossing, on board ship, the sea-going cowboys tended the animals, feeding them, making sure the horses stayed on their feet in spite of heaving ocean swells. If an animal died, they winched it up with a pulley and heaved it overboard. Of course, there was the ever-present animal manure to clean out, which also got swept overboard.
Every day, sailors and sea-going cowboys alike were issued a carton of cigarettes. My grandfather was a non-smoker--and also a deeply grounded moral man. So he declined the cigarettes. He didn't realize, until he got to Poland, that cigarettes were valuable tender, used for trading on the black market. He regretted his stand--because he learned he could have traded cigarettes for food and clothing for poor Poles.
On the trip home, the ship put in at a harbor in Sweden to refuel. The winter was bitterly cold, and the ship ended up being icebound in the harbor for 7 weeks. So the journey, that the ad promised would take 6 weeks total, ended up taking much longer. He did not return home to Pennsylvania until the end of April.
It was the adventure of a lifetime for Pappap. He never again made any trip overseas--although he dearly wanted to. My earth-bound grandmother nixed any such idea.
Oh, how did these men come to be called sea-going cowboys? Simple. Each man was issued a Coast Guard certificate that allowed them to sail on U.S. ships into foreign ports. The certificate listed them as "cattlemen." However, the seasoned sailors on board all the ships cut through that nomenclature--and simply called them "cowboys." And, of course, since they went to sea, they became tagged as sea-going cowboys.
1) my grandfather David Slagenweit--family photo
2) horses on shipboard--credit Lowell Hoover
3) Gdansk destruction--credit Everett Byer
4) Polish orphans--credit Everett Byer
5) dead horse overboard--credit Lowell Hoover