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‘Michigan’s own Polar Bears’ honored

By: Sarah Wright | Troy Times | Published June 7, 2024


TROY — Hundreds of people gathered at White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy for the 93rd annual WWI Polar Bear Memorial Service May 27 to honor a group of Michigan soldiers known as the “Polar Bears,” according to a press release from the cemetery.

The group made history more than 100 years ago as the first U.S. soldiers to fight Russians in battle. This spring marks the 105th anniversary of the Polar Bears returning home, the release states.

The Polar Bear Expedition was a contingent of about 5,000 U.S. troops from the 85th Division, 339th infantry, mostly from Michigan, who landed in Arkhangelsk, Russia, and fought the Bolshevik forces September 1918 through July 1919.

A Veterans of Foreign Wars mission in the autumn of 1929 found, identified and recovered the remains of 86 U.S. soldiers. Another dozen remains of Polar Bear soldiers were shipped to the U.S. in 1934, leaving the number of U.S soldiers still buried in North Russia to about 30, the release said.

“The remains of 56 Polar Bear soldiers were eventually re-buried at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in Troy surrounding the Polar Bear Monument by French American sculptor Leon Hermant,” the release said.

“Our Annual WWI Polar Bear Memorial Service is a way to remember soldiers from all branches of the military,” said David R. Krall, the vice president of White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery. “We want future generations to know about the men and women of the military who have made enormous sacrifices for our country.”

White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery is located at 621 W. Long Lake Road (just west of Interstate 75) in Troy.

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