Being a "Polar Bear" Was Hard Duty
November 29, 2010
The Kansas City Star newspaper had a front page article Saturday, November 27 on a WWI military unit which became known as the Polar Bears. They were sent by President Woodrow Wilson to the Arctic shore of Russia in 1918, at the end of WWI. Their mission was to oppose the communists and support the czarists as the Russian Revolution began. The men were left in frigid Russia for about seven months before they were evacuated.
The "Polar Bears" were reorganized in 1942 as the 339th Infantry Regiment. They landed in North Africa in January 1944, and in March they sailed for Italy to begin pushing out the Axis forces. In sixty days, the unit entered Rome. After almost a year of resistance, the Germans and Italians in Italy unconditionally surrendered. The work of the "Polar Bears" crippled Hitler's war effort and helped lead to the end of WWII.
William A Lutes, a local resident, gathered pictures, documents, and official battle reports from the "Polar Bears", and has given the library a unique scrapbook of the activities of the WWII regiment. These reference materials at the Dearborn Branch chronicle the story of the Mediterranean Theater in a way quite different from a regular book. Many of the men from the 339th Infantry came from the Midwest. Their story is just one that we preserve here among our local history materials.