Historical Markers
World War II Connellsville Canteen Historical Marker
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World War II Connellsville Canteen

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
North Water Street in Connellsville

Dedication Date:
April 23, 1994

Behind the Marker

Kid in Upper Four, New Haven RR ad
Kid in Upper Four, New Haven RR ad
"It is 3:42 a.m. on a troop train. Men wrapped in blankets are breathing heavily. Two in every [sleeping-car] lower berth. One in every upper. This is no ordinary trip. It may be their last in the U.S.A. till the end of the war. Tomorrow they will be on the high seas. One is wide awake…listening…staring into the blackness. It is the kid in Upper 4. Tonight, he knows, he is leaving behind a lot of little things - and big ones. The taste of hamburgers and pop…the feel of driving a roadster over a six-lane highway…a dog named Shucks, or Spot, or Barnacle Bill. The pretty girl who writes so often…that gray-haired man, so proud and awkward at the station…the mother who knits the socks he'll wear soon. Tonight he's thinking them over. There's a lump in his throat. And maybe - a tear fills his eye. It doesn't matter, Kid. Nobody will see…it's too dark. A couple thousand miles away, where he's going, they don't know him very well. But people all over the world are waiting, praying for him to come. And he will come, this kid in Upper 4. With new hope, peace, and freedom for a tired, bleeding world.

"Next time you are on the train, remember the kid in Upper 4. If you have to stand en route - it is so he may have a seat. If there is no berth for you, it is so that he may sleep. If you have to wait for a seat in the diner - it is so he…and thousands like him…may have a meal they won't forget in the days to come. For to treat him as our most honored guest is the least we can do to pay a mighty debt of gratitude."

- Popular railroad ad, "The Kid in Upper 4," Life magazine, December 21, 1942.

Finding a seat on a train was easy in the 1930s, when nobody had the money to ride. But during World War II, gasoline and tire rationing - combined with the urgent need to move hundreds of thousands of troops - made for crowded trains. The record for a single day was set on Christmas Eve, 1943, when the Pennsylvania Railroad carried 178,892 passengers on its New York-Philadelphia-Washington line.

To mobilize its forces, the military chartered some 114,000 special troop trains whose secret and top-priority movements were known only to railroad officials and military intelligence. Over the course of the war, some forty-three million soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and women in various branches of the armed forces traveled aboard these troop trains. They were designated as "Mains." And as the military and the railroads worked together to dispatch them, routing and destinations was kept under wraps.

Often, an entire battalion - three hundred to five hundred soldiers -moved as one unit aboard a train consisting of ten troop sleepers and one or two kitchen cars, plus flat cars trailing behind to haul the group's mechanized vehicles and weaponry. Division unit markings on the vehicles were concealed to hide the identity of the units being moved.
Sailors stand outside of the Connelsville Canteen.
Sailors at Connellsville Canteen

In all, a train totaled fifty to seventy cars, and it took thirty to fifty trains to transport one Army division of ten thousand to fifteen thousand soldiers. To meet this demand, the Pullman Company began building new troop sleepers in 1943, using a boxcar body equipped with bunks. These were spartan and uncomfortable, compared with the contemporary upper and lower berths of standard open-section railroad Pullman sleeping cars. But even the standard railroad sleepers were uncomfortable, when used for troop transport. Soldiers in Pullman cars were forced to double up in the lower berths, sleeping two to a spot normally occupied by one person. For many young soldiers, traveling in the military was their first time away from home. A coast-to-coast train trip might take five to seven days or more, depending on routing and rail-traffic congestion. At a few scattered towns along some main lines, local women and men set up canteens to offer free snacks and friendly smiles to the tired, bored, and often lonely travelers. There, they offered travel-weary soldiers sandwiches, coffee, candy, cookies, cake, chewing gum, and other hospitalities.
Connellsville Canteen volunteers, 1944-1946
Connellsville Canteen volunteers, 1944-1946

Connellsville's canteen operated from 1944 to 1946 at the town's Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station on the railroad's double-track main line, which hugs the bank of the Youghiogheny River. Connellsville is situated about midway between B and O division points at Cumberland, Md., and Pittsburgh on B and O's main route, between the national capital at Washington and Chicago. Military, freight, and scheduled passenger trains all stopped at Connellsville to change crews, engines, or both, giving a few minutes" pause at the station. During the stops, soldiers were met by canteen workers, on duty "round the clock, offering food. Over the course of the war, some 800 women volunteers served 600,000 members of the armed forces.

Connellsville's canteen was typical of the community-sponsored canteens that sprang up at railroad towns far removed from big cities. Others well remembered by World War II veterans include the canteens at North Platte, Nebraska, which served six million servicemen and women from 1941 to 1946, and at Lima and Dennison, Ohio, the latter of which was operated by the Salvation Army. In Pennsylvania, the USO (United Service Organizations) set up lounges or canteens for members of the armed forces at major train stations, including the Broad Street, 30th Street, and North Philadelphia stations in Philadelphia; and the Pennsylvania Railroad stations at Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
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