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Maine History Online
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Guarding Maine Rail Lines

Text by Candace Kanes

Images from Maine Historical Society

In January 1941, African-American soldiers arrived in North Yarmouth and other locations throughout Maine, charged with guarding the Grand Trunk Railroad.

The railroad, conceived of Portland businessman John Poor in 1846 to provide access from Montreal to Portland and hence make Portland the winter port for eastern Canada, continued to provide a vital link during World War II.

During World War I, a German man was dispatched to Vanceboro to destroy the international railroad bridge there. Concern about a similar incident during World War II, as well as concern about the need to provide alternate transport should the ports of the Northeast be disabled, led the Army to station soldiers at Grand Trunk railroad crossings throughout Maine.

Even though the Grand Trunk Railroad had gone bankrupt in the 1920s, the lines were important to protect in case rail connections were needed.

Black soldiers from the Second Battalion of the 366th Infantry were sent from Fort Devens, Massachusetts, to a variety of sites of railroad bridges in Maine.

Sometimes only four soldiers were sent to one location to guard the bridge 24 hours a day.

Boxcars or other railroad cars became the homes for the soldiers while they were on duty in Maine. They often had to visit nearby homes to get water.

Mainers who lived near the locations where the soldiers were stationed often recall interactions with the troops.

In Falmouth, several black soldiers joined a local baseball team that played in the Portland Victory League. They were half the contingent stationed at the crossing by the Falmouth Town Hall where they lived in a caboose and hauled water from a nearby house.

Soldiers guarding the bridge over the Presumpscot River in Falmouth lived in boxcars and got water from the fire station. Neighbors invited them to their homes, baked for them, and provided other touches of home for the isolated soldiers.

At Dunn's Corner in North Yarmouth, soldiers also lived in boxcars. The Atkins, who had a farm close to the soldiers' outpost, befriended the troops as did others in the community. The soldiers attended dances, went to the local swimming hole, played cards with local residents, and went to a bean supper at the church.

Among the soldiers in the Yarmouth and Falmouth areas were McArthur Stafford of New York City, a master sergeant in the signal corps; Pvt. Harding Moore of Jones County, North Carolina; Pvt. Howard Stringfellow of Clay County, Alabama; Pvt. Henry G. Roberts of New York City; Pvt. Robert A. Stephens of New York City; Pvt. Florentino Lopez of New York City; Pvt. Charles E. Rountree of Baltimore; and Cpl. Eugene Edey of New York City.

American troops were segregated until 1948 when President Harry Truman signed an executive order that ended segregation in the military. Early in the war, black troops were not allowed at the front lines. That changed, however, and black troops fought with distinction, which helped bring about the integration in the armed forces.