LINCOLN PARK — The story of Michigan’s “Polar Bear” Regiment will be shared at the Lincoln Park Historical Society’s Annual Dinner May 23 at Lincoln Park High School.
One hundred years ago during the winter of 1918-19, 5,200 U.S. soldiers – most of them from Michigan – were stranded in a sub-arctic region of northern Russia, engaged with other Allied forces in bitter combat with the Bolshevik Red Army.
The American Expeditionary Force in northern Russia consisted of the 339th Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the 310th Engineers, 337th Field Hospital, and 337th Ambulance Company, all elements of the 85th Infantry Division, which trained at Fort Custer near Battle Creek.
After the troops left Michigan in the summer of 1918, they were deployed to France to fight the German Army along the Western Front. Instead, however, they arrived in the port city of Archangel, Russia, on Sept. 4, 1918, under orders from President Woodrow Wilson to join the Allied intervention effort, along with England, France, Canada, and Italy, to fight the Bolsheviks. The battles continued long after the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11. Eventually, they were withdrawn from the isolated military post in June 1919 and returned to Michigan, but not before 230 men lost their lives.
Today, the “Polar Bears” (self-named by the troops on their return voyage home) and their service to their country have not been forgotten. Their war dead are memorialized with a Polar Bear monument at White Chapel Cemetery in Troy, where they are honored annually with a Memorial Day service conducted by the Polar Bear Memorial Association.
At the May 23 dinner, Mike Grobbel, president of the Polar Bear Memorial Association, will share the story of the men of this American North Russia Expeditionary Force, whose return to Detroit in July 1919 will be observed with its 100-year anniversary this summer.
Grobbel’s presentation will draw on the experiences of his grandfather, Clement Grobbel, and other veterans of that campaign — several of whom returned to live in Lincoln Park and Downriver — and will include archival documents and photos, plus, his own experiences during a recent visit to the former front lines in northern Russia.
Guests will have an opportunity to learn this story of the only time in history when American soldiers fought on Russian soil.
Mike Grobbel has been president of the Polar Bear Memorial Association since 2005; the group is affiliated with the Michigan Military Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth. The museum and the association were founded by Stan Bozich, who was the 2018 recipient of the Historical Society of Michigan’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Frankenmuth museum has an extensive collection of “Polar Bear” stories, including uniforms worn by the veterans, their medals, equipment, letters, diaries and other artifacts.
The Polar Bear Expedition touched the community of Lincoln Park, where several of the regiment’s troops made their home, including Columbus LeBlanc, Walter Pegouske, Vernie Stocking and Benjamin Goodell, who died in 1923 at age 35 and in whose honor the V.F.W. Post 552 was named at its founding in 1930.
The cost for the dinner, which will be served buffet-style, is $20 per person. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and the dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Advance reservations are necessary and must be received by May 20.
For more information, call 313-386-3137 or email [email protected].