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Polar Bear History


History of The US Army's 31st Infantry Regiment


(More information can be found at the 31st Infantry Regiment Association’s website)

The Beginning

The 31st Infantry Regiment was formed at Ft William McKinley, Philippine Islands on August 13, 1916. In the spring of 1918, the 31st moved from Manila’s tropics to the bitter cold of Siberia. Its mission, left vague by a deeply divided administration, was ostensibly to prevent Allied war material left sitting on Vladivostock’s docks from being looted. For the next 2 years, the 31st and its sister regiment, the 27th Infantry, fought off bands of Manchurian and Cossack bandits and Red revolutionaries plundering the Siberian countryside and trying to gain control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. They also dissuaded their 40,000 Japanese "allies" from taking control of Russian territory. When the smoke cleared, 16 members of the 31st had earned the Distinguished Service Cross and 32 were killed in action in a two-year war few Americans even knew was being fought. For its Service in Siberia, the 31st Infantry became known as "the Polar Bear regiment", adopting a silver polar bear as its insignia.

The Philippines

Returning to the Philippines in 1920, the 31st garrisoned the old walled city of Manila until February 1932 when Japanese troops invaded China. Reinforcing the 4th Marines and a predominantly British International Force, the 31st Infantry deployed hastily by sea to protect Shanghai’s International Settlement. Although adjacent parts of Shanghai were demolished by fierce fighting between Japanese and Chinese troops, the International Settlement remained an island of security. By April, some officers sent for their families from Manila and billeted them at a hotel in the International Settlement. When the crisis passed, the 31st returned to Manila in the summer of 1932. Before departing Shanghai, the regiment’s officers commemorated the mission by purchasing a silver punch bowl and 29 ornamental cups at a cost of $1600. The set became the regiment’s most cherished possession.

On December 8, 1941, Japanese planes attacked U.S. military installations in the Philippines. A 31st Infantry sergeant on detail at Camp John Hay became the campaign’s first fatality. After landing in northern and southern Luzon, the Japanese pushed rapidly toward Manila, routing a hastily formed Philippine Army units that had little training and few heavy weapons. The 31st Infantry covered the withdrawal of American and Philippine forces to the Bataan Peninsula. Unfortunately, the peninsula had not been provisioned with food and medicine and no help could come in from the outside after much of the Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor and mid-ocean bases at Guam and Wake were lost. Despite starvation, disease, no supplies, obsolete weapons, and often inoperative ammunition, the peninsula’s defenders fought the Japanese to a standstill for 4 months, upsetting Japan’s timetable for Asia’s conquest. When MG King announced he would surrender the Bataan Defense Force on April 9, 1942, the 31st Infantry buried its colors and the cherished Shanghai Bowl to keep them out of enemy hands. Most of the campaign's survivors were herded into columns and marched 68 miles north to Camp O'Donnell. More died of exhaustion, disease, and random execution by their captors. Their trek, marked by the extreme brutality of their Japanese guards, became known as the Bataan Death March. Not all of the 31st’s survivors surrendered. Some managed to link up with bands of their comrades or Filipino guerillas to continue hindering the Japanese in any way they could. Those too weak to run or just plain unlucky were summarily executed if captured later. Some of the 31st’s survivors escaped to continue resisting, but most underwent brutal torture and humiliation on the Death March and nearly 4 years of captivity. Twenty-nine of the regiment’s members earned the Distinguished Service Cross and one was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but the entire chain of command died in captivity before the medal recommendation could be formally submitted. Roughly half of the 1600 members of the 31st Infantry who surrendered at Bataan perished while prisoners of the Japanese.

Korea

In January 1946, General MacArthur restored his former guard of honor to active service at Seoul, Korea, assigning the 31st to the 7th Infantry Division. For the next 2 years, the 31st Infantry performed occupation duty in central Korea, facing the Soviet Army across the 38th Parallel. In 1948, the occupation of Korea ended and the regiment moved to the Japanese island of Hokkaido, occupying the land of its former tormentor. When North Korean troops invaded South Korea in the summer of 1950, the 31st Infantry was stripped to cadre strength to reinforce other units being sent to Korea. In September, the 7th Infantry Division was restored to full strength with replacements from the U.S. and Koreans hastily drafted by their government and shipped to Japan for a few weeks training before returning to their homeland as members of American units. The 31st Infantry returned to Korea as part of MacArthur’s Inchon invasion force.

In November 1950, the 31st Infantry made an amphibious assault, landing at Iwon, not far from Vladivostok, where the 31st had fought just 30 years before. With North Korean resistance shattered, UN troops pushed toward the Yalu River. When Chinese troops swept down from Manchuria, they surrounded a task force led by the 31st Infantry’s commander, COL Alan MacLean. COL MacLean and his successor, LTC Don C. Faith, were both killed during the ensuing battle. LTC Faith won the Medal of Honor for his gallant attempt to lead the command to safety. Only 385 of the task force’s original 3200 members survived.

The 31st Infantry was far from finished. The regiment was evacuated from North Korea by sea to Pusan. There it rebuilt, retrained, and refitted and was soon back in combat, stopping the Chinese at Chechon, South Korea and participating in the counteroffensive to retake central Korea. Near the Hwachon Reservoir, two members of the regiment earned the Medal of Honor in some of the war’s most determined offensive combat. By the summer of 1951, the line stabilized near the war’s start point along the 38th Parallel. For the next two years, a seemingly endless series of blows were exchanged across central Korea’s cold, desolate hills. Names like Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill, Triangle Hill, and OP Dale are among the war’s most famous battles; all fought by the 31st Infantry and bought with its blood. By the war’s end, the 31st Infantry had suffered many times its strength in losses and five of its members had earned the Medal of Honor.

Reorganization

After the war, the 31st Infantry Regiment remained in Korea until the Army reorganized all infantry regiments into battle groups in 1957. The 1st Battle Group, 31st Infantry, representing the only regiment that had never served in the continental United States, remained in Korea with the 7th Infantry Division. In 1958, the 2d Battle Group 31st Infantry was formed at Ft Rucker, Alabama, planting the proud regiment’s flag on the U.S. homeland for the first time in its history. In 1959, the 3d Battle Group, 31st Infantry was formed in the Army Reserve in southern California as part of the 63d Infantry Division. When the Army abandoned battle groups in favor of brigades and battalions in 1963, the 31st Infantry’s 1st and 2d Battalions were reactivated in Korea, the 3d Battalion remained in the Army Reserve, and the 5th Battalion replaced the 2d Battle Group at Fort Rucker. When the war in Vietnam came, two more battalions of the 31st Infantry were formed. The 4th Battalion was formed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in 1965, and the 6th Battalion was formed at Fort Lewis, Washington in 1967.

Vietnam

The 4th Battalion deployed to Vietnam in the spring of 1966, operating initially in War Zone D and around Tay Ninh near the Cambodian border. In 1967, the Battalion moved north to reinforce form the 23d "Americal" Division. Operating at Quang Ngai, Chu Lai, and the Que Son Valley for the rest of the war, the 4th Battalion fought to keep Viet Cong guerillas and the North Vietnamese Army from capturing the coastal lowlands. Two of the battalion’s members earned the Medal of Honor almost a year apart near the bitterly-contested village of Hiep Duc. When American forces departed, the 4th Battalion 31st Infantry was part of the last brigade to leave Vietnam. It was inactivated in 1971.

The 6th Battalion was sent to Vietnam in the spring of 1968, arriving just in time to help recapture Saigon’s suburbs during the enemy’s abortive May offensive. For the next two years, the 6th Battalion fought all across the Mekong Delta and the Plain of Reeds. When the 9th Infantry Division departed in 1969, the 6th Battalion 31st Infantry formed the nucleus of a 1200 member task force under LTC Gerald Carlson, to cover the Division’s departure. Task Force Carlson established a reputation as perhaps the most aggressive and successful battalion in the Division’s history. Remaining in Vietnam, the 6th Battalion crossed into Cambodia in May 1970, making the famed "Seminole Raid" to seize and destroy a huge enemy base area bordering the Plain of Reeds. The battalion returned to Fort Lewis for inactivation in October 1970.

Late 20th Century

In 1971, the 2d Battalion was inactivated in Korea. The 1st Battalion remained in Korea, however, serving there until its inactivation in 1987. It had never served in the continental United States. In 1974, the 2d Battalion was reactivated at Fort Ord, CA where it remained until its inactivation in 1988. The 4th Battalion was reactivated at Fort Sill, OK to support the Field Artillery School and the 6th Battalion was reactivated at Fort Irwin, CA; serving there until its inactivation in 1988. In 1995, the 4th Battalion was inactivated at Ft Sill and reactivated as part of the 10th Mountain Division at Ft Drum, New York the following April. It is now the regiment’s only remaining battalion.

In 1999, the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment “Polar Bears” were called upon to ensure the peace between the warring factions of the former Yugoslavia. The proud and battle worn colors of the 31st were once again unfurled in a foreign land—this time in Bosnia—returning as the 20th Century came to an end.

The Global War on Terror

In September and October 2001, the Polar Bears were called to participate in the nation's War on Terror. From Maryland to Kuwait, Qatar and Uzbekistan, the 31st protected American forces and facilities from terrorist attack. As America and its coalition partners struck back, the Polar Bears deployed to Afghanistan, fighting in the Shah-I-Kowt Valley region and successfully eliminating it as a safe haven for terrorists.

In March 2003, B/4-31 deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in order to conduct base defense and combat operations for CJTF-Arabian Peninsula. In May 2003, C/4-31 and the Battalion's Mortar Platoon deployed to the Horn of Africa to conduct operations in Djibouti and Ethiopia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom for CJTF Horn of Africa. A/4-31 and HHC/4-31 deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan to conduct security operations for CJTF-Phoenix which was training the Afghan National Army (ANA). Select members of the Battalion were also designated as trainers for the ANA.

In May 2004, the Polar Bears again deployed with the 2nd BCT in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon completion of training at Kuwait, the Task Force assumed responsibility for conducting combat operations in the Taji, Saba al Boor, Al Rasheed, Kadhamiya, Abu Ghraib, and Yusufiyah districts of Baghdad. The most significant event for the Battalion was during the first ever Iraqi National Elections, when TF 4-31 provided polling centers in the Kadhamiya area with security and other force protection measures. The Battalion was then called upon to secure the Abu Ghraib Internment Facility from attacks. Before redeployment the Battalion conducted task force level air assaults and raids in enemy strongholds south of Baghdad. TF 4-31 returned to Fort Drum in June 2005, where they continued to train and prepare for the next call to battle.

Task Force 4-31 deployed again to Iraq for 15 months, beginning 16 August 2006. The 809 member task force was their Brigade’s main effort and was given the daunting task of establishing the first permanent Coalition Force presence in the Sunni region south of Baghdad frequently referred to as the “Sunni Triangle of Death.” Working daily with their sister Iraqi Army battalion to re-establish the rule of law and the legitimacy of local Iraqi Forces to the area, Task Force 4-31 became a model vehicle of contemporary counterinsurgency theory and practice. They established six patrol bases, 17 battle positions, assisted the Iraqi Army in the establishment of many more. They conducted over 50 air assaults and three amphibious operations, and fired nearly 400 counter-fire artillery missions against enemy forces and in support of troops in contact. TF 4-31 killed or wounded 51 insurgents and captured 148, while aiding the Iraqi Army in the capture of over 1,500 additional insurgents. While actively hunting insurgents, the Soldiers of TF 4-31 set about improving the community, aiding in the improvement of schools, roads, irrigation canals, community centers, and emplacing solar power street lights. While completing their mission, Task Force 4-31 suffered 26 Soldiers killed in action. The Polar Bears, earned two Silver Stars and the Battalion was nominated for a Valorous Unit Award. Task Force 4-31 returned to Fort Drum in November 2007 to take a well-earned respite as they reset and trained for future combat operations.

31st Infantry Regiment Medal of Honor Recipients

(* indicates posthumous award) Korea (September 1950 to July 1953)

-LTC Don C. Faith

Commander 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT),nChosin Reservoir, 27 Nov-1 Dec 1950*

(LTC Faith assumed command of the 31st Infantry when COL MacLean was killed)

-1LT Ben F. Wilson

Company I, Hwachon, 5 Jun 1951

-PFC Jack Hansen

Company F, Pachi-dong, 7 Jun 1951*

-1LT Edward Schowalter

Company A, Kumhwa, 14 Oct 1952

-PFC Ralph Pomeroy

Company E, Kumhwa, 15 Oct 1952*

Vietnam (August 1966 to October 1971)

-CPL Michael J. Crescenz

Philadelphia, PA, Company A, 4th Battalion, Hiep Duc, 20 Nov 1968*

-SSG Robert C. Murray

Company B, 4th Battalion, Hiep Duc, 7 Jun 1970*

31st Infantry Coat of Arms

Blazon:

Shield: Azure, a sea lion Or grasping in dexter paw a rifle with fixed bayonet Proper.

Crest: On a wreath of the colors a polar bear affronté sejant head to sinister, Proper.

Motto: PRO PATRIA (For Country).

Symbolism: The regiment was organized in Manila in 1916 by transfer of men from the 8th, 13th and 15th Infantry. This is indicated by the sea lion from the coat of arms for the Philippines, the 31st did excellent service in Siberia, this is indicated by the polar bear crest. The motto " For the Country" is indicative of the spirit of the regiment in spite of the fact that the regiment as such has never set foot in the United States.

Background: The coat of arms was approved on 29 Oct 1921.