Honors! Table of Contents
U.S. Military HONORS! Page-17

What was the Polar Bear Expedition of WWI?
Let us find out.
Polar Bear Memorial    (CLICK for larger image)
The Polar Bear Monument at White Chapel Cemetery, Troy, MI
which was dedicated on May 30, 1930.
(Click here to view a photo of the full monument)

Sid Note
7 October 2007

All information pertaining to this little known WWI Expedition, the Michigan Monument and Polar Bear Memorial activities --- including links and images --- were excerpted from the following well-done website at

I have merely attempted to provide you with a sampling.   If you want more, remember it is a virtually endless internet out there.    So after visiting the site you may want to overflow  your bookmarks (aka "favorites") by continuing your knowledge quest HERE

Click away and good searching......

The following excerpted comment kind of sums it all up.
The quotation was copied from and its original source is from the introduction to Ernest M. Halliday's book  When Hell Froze Over

"The American Expedition to North Russia in 1918-1919 has been oddly neglected by professional historians, with the result that most US citizens, including even the best educated and well-read, have been unaware of its existence. Partly, this has been because it got underway in the closing weeks of the Great War (now officially called World War I), and like a side show at a circus where they are already striking the tent, it drew little attention.

"Besides that, there was the confusion and obscurity surrounding it with regard to its purpose, especially in Washington and among the American troops who were involved: they literally had no idea what they were being sent to do. Even President Woodrow Wilson, as will be seen, was in a spin of uncertainty as to whether he should or should not authorize the expedition, and the British leadership (for it was to be an Allied operation, including British and French soldiers, but with the British officers in all the top command positions) offered little clarification.

"Without further enlightenment, five thousand American doughboys found themselves, early in September of 1918, after a long, slow trip from England through the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, disembarking at the Russian port of Archangel - and more than half of them no sooner ashore than they were, with astonishment, packed off to "the front" to fight "the Bolos" - which was to say units of the Soviet Red Army. The operation thus turned out to be, willy-nilly and right from the start, an invasion of Soviet territory."

Statement from

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 Co. and the 337th Field Hospital of the U.S. Army's 85th Division . 

These men, known as "Detroit's Own" and "Polar Bears", fought the Bolshevik enemy and the elements as part of the American North Russian Expeditionary Force in 1918-1919.

More about the Expedition may be found at the BENTLEY HISTORICAL LIBRARY  of THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN.  1150 Beal Avenue Ann Arbor, MI. 

The Polar Bear digital collections is linked here

Here is an excerpt from their site:

The American military intervention at Archangel, Russia, at the end of World War I, nicknamed the "Polar Bear Expedition," is a strange episode in American history. Ostensibly sent to Russia to prevent a German advance and to help reopen the Eastern Front, American soldiers found themselves fighting Bolshevik revolutionaries for months after the Armistice ended fighting in France.

Because many of the American troops involved in the intervention were from Michigan, the Michigan Historical Collections has long been interested in documenting this episode. This guide describes the Collections' holdings of manuscripts and photographs as well as maps and primary printed source materials relating to the Polar Bear Expedition.

An excellent listing of relevant books are also found on the website.
Go to Honors page 17a for a local copy of that list.
Dr. John Withers, Rest in Peace:
WWII Soldier Risked Career to
Save Holocaust Survivors From Dachau
Posted in Debbie Schlussel blog on October 09, 2007
This section about LT John Withers was obtained (and inspired by) the website of Debbie Schlussel.   Links, text and images are for archiving purposes with the intent to provide additional information about this little-known story. Images and text are provided herein for educational and informational purposes only. (Copyright police please take note)  No monetary charges to the original sources will be made for providing them with this free advertisement.
                        Sid note: (2008)

Uncommon Courage:
John Withers Risked Everything to Save 2 Dying Strangers

On Sunday, America lost a great hero--John Withers. The Black World War II veteran risked a dishonorable discharge and the loss of his academic career in order to hide and save two dying Jewish teens he liberated from the Dachau concentration camp. It was an especially great risk in those days of segregation.

In 2003, the Wall Street Journal ran this incredible front page story by Bryan Gruley about Withers' heroic efforts risking his future for two strangers and how decades later he was reunited with one of them, now an American citizen. 
HERE is a local copy of the WSJ article.

John Withers, a World War II lieutenant who risked a dishonorable discharge to help two young Holocaust survivors, died Sunday.

(Also the Washington Post has an obituary on this great American.)

Mr. Withers, who was 91 years old, was the subject of a page one article in The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 25, 2003. The article described how Mr. Withers, as a leader of an all-black Army supply unit in 1945, broke military rules to hide two Jewish-Polish survivors of the Dachau concentration camp. He spent more than a year mentoring the two, whom his soldiers had nicknamed "Peewee" and "Salomon."

Mr. Withers, who had grown up in segregated Greensboro, N.C., said he identified with the boys "very strongly and instantaneously" and that they taught him that "it is possible for someone -- me, anyone -- to overcome the obstacles in his path without losing himself and face prejudice without becoming prejudiced in return."

He lost touch with them after he returned to the U.S. in 1946. But in 2001, Mr. Withers was reunited with Peewee, by then a successful Connecticut businessman named Martin Weigen. The reunion inspired Mr. Weigen to unburden himself of his own stories of losing his parents and sister during the Holocaust, and time he spent at Auschwitz and other camps. Mr. Weigen died in October 2003 at the age of 75.

Copied from Debbie Schlussel.

Dr. John Withers (Right) Re-Unites with Martin Weigen, Holocaust Survivor He Saved From Dachau

Read more about John Withers amazing life and heroism and how he overcame segregation and prejudice to achieve his dream of a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago - he was one of 12 to graduate from the prestigious university with that degree at the time (in the days when there was no affirmative action whatsoever):

Holocaust & Humanity: John Withers Bio

An interview with Dr. John Withers II
about reuniting his father with the man whose life he saved

Watch a video interview with John Withers.
(Scroll down to middle of page, "Mapping Our Tears - Lt. John Withers.")

Local (2003) copy of the WSJ article

John Withers, American Hero and  Patriot, Rest in Peace