World War I U.S. Army Uniform

“Polar Bears Centennial Symposium” Honors World War I U.S. Army Troops {GALLERY}

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and “Detroit’s Own” Polar Bear Memorial Association hosted a symposium to honor the World War I U.S. Army soldiers, also called “Polar Bears,” who fought the Bolshevik Red Army in North Russia from September 1918 through May 1919.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of their landing in Russia, the event, held at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Richard E. Whitmer Building Auditorium, included presentations from notable authors and historians along with a display of “Polar Bear” uniforms, photographs and memorabilia from the collections of the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, Mich.

The free event hosted members of Blue Cross’ Veteran Employee Resource Network, volunteers, local veterans and people from across the state and country with personal stories connected to World War I and the U.S. Army “Polar Bears.” The historic displays were accompanied by music from the era and a “Polar Bear” re-enactor dressed in full uniform. Speakers at the event included:

  • Mike Grobbel, president of “Detroit’s Own” Polar Bear Memorial Association
  • Laura A. Kline, Ph.D., director of global studies at Wayne State University
  • James C. Nelson, author of The Polar Bear Expedition: The Heroes of America’s Forgotten Invasion of Russia
  • Gordon Olson, editor of A Michigan Polar Bear Confronts the Bolsheviks: A War Memoir (selected for “2011 Michigan Notable Books” by the Library of Michigan)
  • Bill Plies, vice president of corporate planning and supporting leader of the Veterans Network at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Approximately 4,700 U.S. Army “Polar Bears” came from Metro Detroit. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provides professional growth opportunities internally and externally to the veteran community through the Veteran Employee Resource Network founded in 2017.

The “Detroit’s Own” Polar Bear Memorial Association is dedicated to honoring and maintaining the memory of the 339th Infantry Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the 310th Engineers, the 337th Ambulance and Field Hospital Companies of the U.S. Army’s 85th Division. These men, officially designated as the American North Russia Expeditionary Force, were sent by President Wilson to North Russia where they fought the Bolshevik Red Army from September 1918 through June 1919.

Additional presenters included John Ryder, Christie Laster, Suzanne Miller Allen and Souzan Flack Blumberg.

View the gallery below to view some of the iconic history displayed at the event:

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