I found this article listed online at this site -- http://www.midwestguest.com/history/page/8/
John was John Bigelow and Harold was Harold Wagner.
January 17, 2012
Sure, the Detroit Zoo has polar bears, but a monument in Troy, Michigan, commemorates the state's most legendary Polar Bears-World War I soldiers who fought in a particularly curious and confusing military engagement.
I knew about this white marble sculpture for many years, and I remembered it again when we discovered the graves of a few Polar Bears while geocaching in a cemetery near Copemish in northern Michigan this past summer. It seemed like the right time to revisit the Troy memorial and learn more about these soldiers and why theyremained fighting in northern Russia long after the November 11, 1918 Armistice marking the end of World War I.
By summer of 1918, Russia signed a peace agreement with Germany, but the British and French wished to keep Germany occupied on the Eastern Front while guarding military weapons and equipment left in northern Russia by the Allies.
President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly sent American troops to a remote location 600 miles north of Moscow with the provision that they went only to guard the military equipment.
Members of the 339th Infantry trained at Camp Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan, and marched before cheering crowds Woodward Avenue and Fort Street in Detroit before departing overseas.
The 339th Infantry, plus the 337th Ambulance Company, 337th Field Hospital Company and a battalion of the 310th Engineers, arrived in England and received Russian weapons and equipment, along with orders to ship out to Archangel, Russia.
Michigan men comprised about 75 percent of the 339th, with the majority of those from Detroit, according to the historical marker at the Polar Bear monument. Local newspapers dubbed them "Detroit's Own", and the soldiers called themselves the "Polar Bears".
The Americans arrived at Archangel in September of 1918 to join the international North Russian Expeditionary Force under British command.
The Bolsheviks (an early name for Communists) already moved the allies' military equipment, and the Americans quickly found themselves in hostile territory.
Soon, it became clear that no one really knew why the soldiers were in Archangel or who they were supposed to be fighting.
The Bolsheviks went on the attack, forcing the Allies into a defensive position.
Weeks turned into months. The Polar Bears fought one of their fiercest battles on the day of the Armistice. Morale plunged and casualties mounted. Still, the American soldiers remained marooned in Archangelfacing food shortages and temperatures as low as 56 degrees below zero.
The soldiers' families, along with Michigan newspapers and politicians, lobbied for their return to America.
President Wilson ordered the War Department to coordinate the soldiers' return in February of 1919.
Meanwhile, men in one of the companies at Archangel protested harsh conditions and their continued presence in Russia, earning threats of court martial and a few ill-founded accusations of mutiny leveled at these soldiers who ultimately became one of the most highly decorated regiments of WWI.
An American commander arrived at Archangel in April 1919 with orders to withdraw the soldiers, but fighting continued through the middle of May. The soldiers finally left Archangel when the harbor thawed enough to allow navigation.
The Polar Bears lost about 245 soldiers, with 94 of them dying after the United States decided to withdraw from Russia, but before thawing allowed them to leave. Some soldiers died in battle, and many died of disease (mostly due to the influenza epidemic). About 30 more went missing and nine became prisoners of war.
In 1922, the remaining Polar Bears began lobbying to bring home the bodies of more than 125 known soldiers left behind in Russia.
In 1929, state and federal officials working with the Veterans of Foreign Wars sponsored a mission to recover those remains. The group identified and brought home the remains of 86 soldiers. The Soviet Union shipped the remains of another dozen men to America in 1934.
Sculptor Leon Hermant created White Chapel's Polar Bear Memorial,dedicated on May 30, 1930. The graves of 56 Polar Bears recovered from Russia surround the statue.
Learn more about Michigan's Polar Bears with an extensive digitized collection of Polar Bear items at the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library.
Michigan's Own Military and Space Museum in Frankenmuth, Michigan, also has a large collection of Polar Bear artifacts.
You can also check out A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks: A War Memoir by Godfrey J. Anderson, When Hell Froze Over by E. M. Halliday or History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviks: US Military Intervention in Soviet Russia 1918-1919 by Joel R. Moore, Harry H. Meade and Lewis E. Jahns.
© Dominique King 2012 All rights reserved