A Brief History of the “Polar Bears”
The 31st U.S. Infantry Regiment was formed at Manila in the Philippines in 1916. In 1918 the Regiment received its baptism of fire in the cold and unforgiving terrain of Siberia. The Soldiers of the Regiment guarded the rail line, warehouses and supplies near Vladivostok—earning 16 Distinguished Service Crosses and taking their nickname of "Polar Bears" from the fearsome predators they came to see often in the line of duty.
In 1932, the Polar Bears were again called to arms, this time to Shanghai to police the riots, protect American lives and property, and give the people of China new hope in an uncertain time. The officers of the 31st donated 1,500 silver dollars and commissioned a beautiful punch bowl and cup set to commemorate the Regiment’s service in China—naming it the Shanghai Bowl.
As 1941 drew to a close the winds of war blew hot in the Pacific. On the Bataan Peninsula, the Regiment met its stiffest test yet fighting undaunted for over four months without replacements or resupply—our nation unable to send help. Those who survived the campaign had to endure the Bataan Death March and captivity in Japanese POW camps. So they would not fall into enemy hands, the Polar Bears buried their colors along with the Shanghai bowl at Bataan—retrieving them once the war was over.
The Korean War roused the Polar Bears from their occupation duty in Japan and once again plunged them into the fire of combat during the Inchon landing and the fearsome battles of the Chosin and Hwachon Reservoirs as well as Pork Chop Hill. During the Korean War five Polar Bears were awarded the Medal of Honor.
From the jungles of Vietnam to the mountains of Afghanistan, the 4th Battalion, 31st fought without fame and with little recognition, always living up to their motto: “Pro Patria…For Country.” Most recently, the Polar Bears deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Two deployments, one for 15months in support of the surge effort, put the Polar Bears into the heart of the battle for Iraq. Their efforts set the conditions Iraq’s first free national elections.
TF 4-31’s third, and most recent deployment to Iraq, came in October 2009. The Battalion headquartered southeast of Baghdad, along the Tigris River, near the town of Salman Pak in the region called the Mada’in. This area, also known as the ancient city of Ctesiphon (Tess-a-fon), is known by its landmark; the Ctesiphon Arch. The arch, built around 540 BC, is the only visible structure from that time and the oldest free standing arch in the world. Task Force 4-31 occupied four operating bases in the area and partnered with the 45th Iraqi Infantry Brigade. From these remote outposts, the Polar Bears provided Mada’in with security and a foundation for the local governments to foster. In March of 2010 the Polar Bears, supporting the 45th Iraqi Brigade, set the conditions for the national elections in what was, just 2 years earlier, one of the most violent areas in Iraq. The Polar Bear’s efforts during the elections resulted in a successful national elections across the Mada’in and the legitimizing of the new Iraqi government. Finally, the Battalion transitioned all of its bases to the Iraqi Army as part of the historic drawdown and successful ending of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. TF 4-31 redeployed home, content with their contributions to the Operation’s success and the end of the war.