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Blue Cross and Michigan Heroes Museum Commemorate 100th Anniversary of WWI

An upcoming exhibit and symposium will share a piece of southeast Michigan’s history, telling the story of individual “Polar Bears” through their uniforms, medals, photographs and correspondence, and equipment.

As opposed to the furry, four-footed residents of the Arctic north, these “Polar Bears” were local soldiers, originating in 1917 as the U.S. Army’s 339th Infantry Regiment.

Historic image of an American soldier in the snow.

Blockhouse at Verst 455 surrounded by a forest white with new snow. The picture was taken Feb. 17, 1919, a day when the temperature reached 50 degrees below zero. The American soldier in the foreground is Corp. Hearn of Company I, 339th Inf., 85th Div. Verst 455, Vologda Railway Front, Russia.

The unit consisted of mostly draftees from Detroit, along with others from Southeast Michigan. Officially designated as “The American North Russia Expeditionary Force,” these men became known as “Detroit’s Own” and the “Polar Bears” after being sent by President Woodrow Wilson to northern Russia in September 1918 to fight the Bolshevik Red Army as part of the Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War.

The exhibit tells their story. On loan from a community partner, the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, the exhibit commemorates not only the 100th anniversary of the service and sacrifice of these Michigan soldiers, but also the centennial anniversary of the end of WWI, or Armistice Day — later known as “Veterans Day.”

The public is invited to a special free viewing and symposium on Wednesday, Sept. 5 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at BCBSM’s Whitmer Building Auditorium in Detroit. Find more event details here. The event will begin with light refreshments while attendees have the opportunity to view displays. As 7 p.m. approaches, attendees will move into the auditorium for a program that will include presentations, followed by a question and answer session. Speakers will include Gordon L. Olson, James C. Nelson and Dr. Laura A. Kline, Ph.D.

There are a limited number of tickets and you must register in advance to attend. No walk-up registrations will be allowed to enter on the day of the event.Logo commemorating 100 years since the end of WWI.

“Blue Cross is proud to be a part of this national celebration, and especially to recognize this significant Detroit connection,” said Suzanne Miller Allen, director, Community Responsibility. “We are excited to once again work with our community partner, the Michigan Heroes Museum, and our own Veterans employee resource network (ERN), to bring this wonderful opportunity to our employees and the community.”

The Michigan Heroes Museum’s mission is to “Honor — Respect — Remember” Michigan residents who served in our armed forces. For more information on either the Polar Bears or the museum, please visit their website.

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Main image photo credit: MillefloreImages

“Polar bear” image and 100-year logo courtesy of Michigan Heroes Museum. 

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