The 339th Infantry Regiment Returns to Detroit

Information and 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.

Soldier with escorts Mother and son Hugs and kisses Don't let go

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:  

Welcome Home
to the Polar Bear Regiment!

Instructions to 339th Men

You will be able to rejoin your relatives in your Company tents at the foot of Belle Isle where the parade disbands after the presentation of medals to Maj. Nichols. Men from out of town whose relatives are not present will be served much ice cream and chicken at the Red Cross picnic grove directly opposite the Casino, beginning at 11:30. Men whose relatives have provided lunch are asked to picnic in the space set aside for the Detroit's Own Welfare Association, just north of the Casino and across the canal. The Belle Isle bathhouse master will provide swim suits at all hours for the 339th men. The Detroit Boat Club and Detroit Yacht Club will extend all privileges. Men wanting to get back to the mainland during the day may take the launches of either these clubs from the club dock. Baseball game at 3:30PM between teams of Machine Gun Company at Belle Isle Diamond No. 1.  Prizes silver cigarette cases. Senator Johnson will speak from the Casino balcony at 2 p.m..  339th men are asked to assemble at Company tents and march to reserved space. For all general information and courtesies, apply at General Information Tent near big flag pole at foot of island. Jazz band will furnish music for dancing on green at foot of Island, beginning at 2:30 p.m.  Seven band concerts at various points on Island. Boys who do not return to city with relatives will be provided with transportation back to city. Get departure time from General Information Tent.

(click to enlarge)
(courtesy of family of Pvt. Louis H. Stark,
Co. G, 339th Inf. Reg.)

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 disembarkedThey 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.  


Mike Grobbel
Created: 24 July 2007; Last revised: 07 May 2008

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