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The Polar Bear Unit

After the armistice ending World War I was signed and other American soldiers came home, 5,500 soldiers—90% of them from Michigan—were sent to northern Russia near the Arctic Circle.

We were never really told why we were there.

Donald Shand of Detroit
Polar Bear Expedition

Some of these artifacts in the exhibit belonged to Roy Rasmussen.Roy Rasmussen, a Polar Bear soldier in Company H, 339th Infantry, in Archangel, Russia, who hailed from Hart, compared Russia with Michigan. Corresponding frequently with his family, he described his barracks in Russia as "similar to that in Camp Custer" and noted, "I don't see many autos here. Most of them I do see are Fords. Saw one Reo and a Franklin."

Called the Polar Bear Unit, these American soldiers assisted the forces that made an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Russia's new communist government. About 245 Polar Bear members died and 350 were wounded.

Polar Bear soldiers returning from Russia were honored at a picnic on Detroit's Belle Isle in 1919. Some of the soldiers who died in Russia were interred near the Polar Bear monument in Troy's White Chapel Cemetery.


Read more about the Polar Bear Unit in "Stranded in Russia," an article from Michigan History magazine. [PDF]


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