Ninety-seven-year-old David Haldeman, a former seagoing cowboy, said he hopes to be one of the first to get author Peggy Reiff Miller's new children's book, "The Seagoing Cowboy."
Miller will be the guest speaker during Zigler Hospitality Center's luncheon Saturday, Oct. 29. She will discuss her research on the seagoing cowboys, her new book and several of the original cowboys will be present before and during the luncheon to share their stories.
"Miss Miller did an excellent job. She's done a lot of research," said Haldeman, of Mastersonville, Pennsylvania.
According to Zigler Hospitality Center's manager Mary Ann Grossnickle, the $10 event will begin with a social at noon. A hot buffet lunch will begin at 1:30 p.m.
Copies of "The Seagoing Cowboy" will be available for sale and signing.
Miller, of Goshen, Indiana, is the granddaughter of a seagoing cowboy.
Her book was published by Brethren Press in March and illustrated by Claire Ewart. It is the story of a young man and his friend who board a ship bound for post-World War II Poland.
As part of the Heifer Project, one cares for horses, the other for heifers on the weeks-long journey.
What they see when they arrive is sobering: the war had left the country in ruins, and many people had nothing left. The horses and heifers will assist the Polish people as they rebuild their lives.
Miller explained that after 1945, while Europe struggled with the desolation left by years of war, more than 7,000 men and boys ages 16 to 72 traveled by ship on missions of mercy. They were seagoing cowboys — farmhands and folks from all walks of life: teachers, students, bankers, preachers, plumbers — and they were recruited to care for the thousands of horses and heifers sent for reparations.
During a telephone interview, Haldeman recalled that the journey took about six weeks. They traveled on a converted warship about 400 feet long by 60 feet wide that had been renovated into a cattle ship for the Heifer Project.
"There was an ad in the newspaper saying they wanted 1,000 men to take care of cattle donated by the churches," Haldeman recollected. "We got $150 for the time it took to deliver a load of cattle. There were 200 heifers and just short of 100 horses."
Haldeman said he wanted to go because his church was "always ready to help people in trouble."
"Most of us were farmer boys and not acquainted with seagoing equipment," he said. "We had a rough time keeping a good stomach. Sometimes it felt lonesome out there, but we were with all the animals, making sure they had feed to eat and water to drink."
Haldeman recalled sailing past England's cliffs of Dover and docking at the mouth of the Seine River in France.
"That area was still looted with battleship wrecks, and we had to steer around them," Haldeman said. "Somehow we made a safe trip, avoiding all the possibilities. There were still mines in the area. I don't know how we did it but we survived. The harbors over there were almost frightening because there were no buildings, they were all destroyed."
Haldeman said the crew had a day or two in each port.
"We walked among the foxholes," Haldeman recalled. "I put myself in the position of those soldiers who occupied those holes and did their job. I sensed the fear that must have been theirs."
In a telephone interview, Miller said she plans to discuss the role New Windsor played in the Heifer Project and the seagoing cowboys. In 1945, New Windsor's Brethren Service Center was the office for the Heifer Project and the seagoing cowboys.
Miller explained that after her grandfather died, her father gave her a stack of photographs and she learned that her grandfather had participated in the program.
"There were many families that didn't know about their fathers, grandfathers, uncles' experiences," Miller said. "As I began researching and talking about the history and interviewing the cowboys, they realized for the first time that this was something their families were interested in."
Miller said her grandpa's pictures gave her clues to what ship he was on.
"I knew he had gone to Poland, so I was particularly interested in talking to those cowboys," Miller said. "Once I found the card file [cards were kept on every one of the men who went] in the Heifer archives, I spent 10 days scanning every one of those cards. Then I found crew lists, and as I continued interviewing I found a couple of men who had been on the same ship as grandpa."
Miller said the group wasn't particularly tight knit.
"They were split into two crews, so they didn't meet everyone. I never found out my grandfather's exact story but after interviewing these guys, it didn't matter," Miller explained. "This history was just hiding away in people's minds, drawers and attics. My grandfather's story was not what I was pursuing anymore, it was just getting the history preserved."
Miller explained that the idea for the picture book came to her eight years into her research.
"I was extremely fortunate," Miller said. "You usually have no say on illustration, it's like an arranged marriage where the editor chooses the illustrator, but the Brethren Press had not done a picture book for 10 years. They wanted my input."
The book's illustrator, Claire Ewart, was recommended to Miller by a mutual friend.
"When I looked at her work, and saw her use of light and her ability to express emotion in not just people but animals, I passed her name on," Miller said.
Miller said she is pleased with the final product.
"I'm proud of Brethren Press for the quality they put into the book," Miller said. "The response has been wonderful from the cowboys and the families of the cowboys. I get thank you letters from children or grandchildren of cowboys thanking me for bringing the story alive."