One Time, Nazi Soldiers Came Ashore in Maine During World War II
Maine has a very colorful history. Children of the Pine Tree State get to learn a significant amount of it while growing up. However, there's a little-known story surrounding World War ll that probably deserves more of our attention. It's a fascinating and scary story. A story that quite literally shows how close World War II's impact had on Mainers.
On the night of November 29, 1944, Nazi spies landed on the shore of Maine. According to the Bangor Daily News, the two men were delivered by a U Boat off the coast of Bar Harbor. The two men were accompanied by two German uniformed soldiers before returning to the boat. As the Bangor Daily News points out, one historian would say this was “possibly the first enemy dressed in a military uniform to set foot on continental U.S. soil since the Mexican War in the 1840s.”
The spies' names were William Coleplaugh and Erich Grimpel. According to americainwwii.com, they were sent to America to try and gain intelligence on the Manhattan Project, America's operation that was producing nuclear bombs. The article mentions the two were traveling with some spy equipment and $60,000 in cash to help with their espionage attempt.
The plan was a mess right from the start. According to the Bangor Daily News, the spies were immediately seen by two townspeople, Harvard Hodgkins and Mary Forni. Both had suspicions right away, especially since the two men were severely underdressed for a Maine winter.
According to the Bangor Daily News, both Mainers told their families about the strange men trudging on the side of the road. The FBI would eventually be notified and came to Maine to interview the two.
While the two spies would make it to New York, the operation was a total dud. Not only were they already on the FBI's radar, but Coleplaugh was not cut out for the spy life. According to americainwwii.com, the Connecticut native would eventually grab the money and desert Gimpel. He would eventually turn himself in and Gimpel would be tracked down by the FBI just a few days later.
According to the Bangor Daily News, both were tried and convicted of treason. Originally, they were to be executed, but FDR's death postponed the hanging. The Bangor Daily News reported that the execution sentences would eventually be commuted and the two received long jail sentences.
Meanwhile, Hodgkins and Forni enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame for helping foil the Nazi Spy plot. According to americainwwii.com, Forni received a war bond from the town of Bar Harbor. She also had a party in her honor on her 90th birthday back in 2005.
As for Hodkins, he was flown to New York, shown the sites, given the key to the city, got to meet legends like Joe Lewis, and was even presented a scholarship to Maine Maritime Academy. I guess it paid to be a boy scout back in the day.
This is quite a story, and one that gets little to no attention. I find it fascinating that Maine had actual uniformed Nazi soldiers standing on its coast. I'm also not surprised that it was two Mainers who helped foil the Nazi's plot to try and steal information. Don't mess with Maine and its people. We will take you down.