1919 : Polar Bears March on Belle Isle

July 4, 2018 all-day

The Polar Bears, or American North Russian Expeditionary Force, are the only American troops ever to fight in Russia, the decades-long enemy of the U.S. during the Cold War that followed World War II.

The U.S. 339th Infantry Regiment and support units who shipped out in the summer of 1918 were told they were to stop Germany from gaining a foothold in Russia. But when they arrived near the Arctic Circle that fall, they wound up part of Britain’s effort to beat the Bolsheviks who had overthrown the czar — “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle,” in Winston Churchill’s words.

The soldiers, also called Detroit’s Own — 90% were from Michigan, and 70% of those from Detroit — continued fighting through the winter, months after the armistice with Germany was signed. Their families lobbied Washington until President Woodrow Wilson finally withdrew the troops and the Detroiters returned home that summer.

On July 4, 1919, surviving members of the Michigan unit paraded on Bell Isle.

For more information, read Michigan’s Polar Bears; the American expedition to north Russia, 1918-1919 [by] Richard M. Doolen. The MSU Libraries also has a diary from a participant.

For a film, see Voices of a never ending dawn / a Pamela Peak production. [Detroit, Mich.] : Pamela Peak Productions : Detroit Public TV, c2009. 1 DVD videodisc (ca. 117 min.) : sd., col. with b&w sequences ; 4 3/4 in. MSU Digital and Multimedia Collecton D570.33 339th .V65 2009 VideoDVD

For the full article see Zlati Meyer, “State’s polar bears descend on Belle Isle”, Detroit Free Press, July 3, 2011.

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