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4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment
"Polar Bears"

The 31st Infantry Regiment was formed at Ft William McKinley, Philippine Islands on 13 August 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.

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 8 December 1941, Japanese planes attacked US military installations in the Philippines. A 31st Infantry sergeant on detail at Cp John Hay became the campaign's first fatality. After landing in northern and southern Luzon, the Japanese pushed rapidly toward Manila, routing 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 9 April 1942, the 31st Infantry buried its colors and the cherished Shanghai Bowl to keep them out of enemy hands. 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.

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 1950, the division was restored to full strength with replacements from the US 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 its second amphibious invasion of the campaign, 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 2 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 were 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 5 of its members had earned the Medal of Honor.

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 2nd Battle Group 31st Infantry was formed at Ft Rucker, Alabama, planting the proud regiment's flag on the US homeland for the first time in its history. In 1959, the 3rd Battle Group 31st Infantry was formed in the Army Reserve in southern California as part of the 63rd Infantry Division. When the Army abandoned battle groups in favor of brigades and battalions in 1963, the 31st Infantry's 1st and 2nd Battalions were reactivated in Korea, the 3rd Battalion remained in the Army Reserve, and the 5th Battalion replaced the 2nd Battle Group at Ft Rucker. When the war in Vietnam came, 2 more battalions of the 31st Infantry were formed. The 4th Battalion was formed at Ft Devens, Massachusetts in 1965 and the 6th Battalion was formed at Ft Lewis, Washington in 1967.

The 4th Battalion went 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 help form the 23rd "Americal" Infantry Division. Operating at Quang Ngai, Chu Lai, and the Que Son Valley for most of 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 2 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 man 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 Ft Lewis for inactivation in October 1970.

In 1971, the 2nd Battalion was inactivated in Korea. The 1st Battalion remained in Korea, however, serving there until its inactivation in 1987. It had still never served in the continental United States. In 1974, the 2nd Battalion was reactivated at Ft Ord, California where it remained until its inactivation in 1988.

The 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment was reactivated at Ft Sill, Oklahoma to support the Field Artillery School and the 6th Battalion was reactivated at Ft Irwin, California, 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 became now the 31st Regiment's only remaining battalion. The blending of "Polar Bears" with the "Division of Mountaineers" in New York's cold north country is a fitting match in which another generation of American soldiers uphold the proud motto "Pro Patria" (for country).

In September and October 2001, the Polar Bears were once again called to arms 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 of the 4th Battalion deployed to Afghanistan, fighting in the Shah-I-Kowt Valley region and successfully eliminating it as a safe haven for international terrorism.

In April 2002, the Polar Bears returned to Fort Drum. In 2003 roughly 300 soldiers from the 4-31st deployed to Djibouti in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) as TF 4-31. Company C was one of the units identified as having been deployed.

C Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, conducted the various training exercises during July 2003, while in Djibouti including known distance ranges, both in Djibouti and Ethiopia; reflexive fire ranges, both in Djibouti and Ethiopia; AK-47 range for familiarization of the weapon system; familiarization ranges for Shotguns and 9mm Pistols; and External Sling Load training with Heavy Marine Helicopter Company (HMH-461) (both day and night iterations to help certify them). Its Mortar platoon underwent training on the mortar ballistic computer and the plotting board to further their proficiency. They also conducted military to military training in Hurso, Ethiopia and provided a security mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In March 2003, B/4-31st Infantry 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-HOA. 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 Brigade 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 transitioned to the US Army's new modular force structure as part of the overall transformation of the 10th Mountain Division.

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." 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 6 patrol bases, 17 battle positions, assisted the Iraqi Army in the establishment of many more. They conducted over 50 air assaults and 3 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 2 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.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:27:50 ZULU