The 339th Infantry Regiment Returns to Detroit
images are from the book "Detroit's Own Polar Bears",
by Stan and Jon Bozich
Links are to photos at The Virtual Motor City: Images from the Detroit News
On November 11, 1918, the citizens of Detroit had an opportunity to celebrate the end of fighting on the Western Front. However, the many families who had sons in North Russia had to wait almost eight more anxious months for their opportunity to celebrate. They were not forgotten by the Detroit populace, which staged an elaborate set of activities on the Fourth of July, 1919 to welcome home the first returning members of the 339th Infantry Regiment (formerly known as "Detroit's Own" and by then known as the "Polar Bears"). One of the Detroit newspapers described the "welcome home" they received,
"It was the city's show of sympathy for the only American troops for whom the Armistice signing meant nothing..... There were to be no formalities that tired without pleasing, no parades that delighted only the spectators, no ceremonies to bore those for which they are intended. The plans provide that the welcomed should be entertained, not the welcomers."
The first section of men from the 339th to arrive back in Detroit rolled into Michigan Central Station at Noon on Thursday, July 3, 1919. Three more troop trains arrived at 7:30 PM, 8:30 PM and 11:00 PM, each bringing large numbers of 339th soldiers home from Camp Merritt, NJ. The four troop trains contained Companies A, E, G, I, L, M and Machine Gun of the 339th Infantry Regiment.
Local men were allowed to go home to their family for the night and others were put up in local hotels and in the homes of Detroiters who wanted to extend their hospitality to a young soldier. As the men got off the train, they were given a card explaining the Welcoming Committee's plans for the following day:
On Friday July 4th at 8:00 AM, the men of the 339th marched to the Detroit riverfront to board the ferry Brittania for the short trip upriver to the dock on the Canadian channel side of Belle Isle. The Welcoming Committee distributed white "Polar Bear" armbands to every soldier, which they wore proudly during their day on the Island.
Belle Isle was already teeming with thousands of people and 100 rockets were launched into the air as the Brittania approached. Girls dressed in white Red Cross uniforms lined the pier and tossed flowers as the men disembarked. They marched directly to the athletic field, where they were permitted to meet friends and family.
After a short time, they lined up again to parade down Central Avenue in front of thousands of relatives, friends and ordinary citizens.
Arriving back at the quadrangle at the foot of the Island, they were told by Maj. Nichols to return to their Company Tents, have fun, enjoy the rest of the day and do whatever they wanted, just as long as they were at the Michigan Central Station by 8:00 AM the next day.
On Saturday morning, the first troop trains departed at 9:00 AM sharp for Camp Custer near Battle Creek, where the men would be mustered out of the Army during the following week and sent home to resume their civilian lives.
Created: 24 July 2007; Last revised: 07 May 2008
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