Blodgett one of Michigans World War I "Polar Bears"
Lee Blodgett was
born Oct.23, 1891, his mother was
Lydia V. Parker born in 1857, a descendent of one of Royal Oak’s
earliest families, and his father was Herbert S. Blodgett born about
1877. Lydia and Herbert were married on April 29, 1879.
Lee enlisted in the U.S. army Nov. 19th, 1917 at the age of 26. He
finished his military training at Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Mi.,
attained the rank of Sargent, and was detailed to Co. B 310th
In July of 1918 his unit originally assigned to combat in France was
diverted to Archangel, Russia by request from the British and French
government to assist Allied forces fighting the Red Army. (See history of the Polar Bears below.)
Arriving in Russia Sgt. Blodgett maintained a diary during his time
overseas, also preserved is a letter that he wrote to his mother, and
his enlistment /discharge paper. It can be noted that on his discharge
paper he listed himself as an auto salesman and was mustered out at
Camp Sherman, Ohio on July 17, 1919, after serving 3 years. Upon his
discharge in Ohio he received travel pay to Royal Oak, Mi., a $60 bonus
for a total of $295.56. We know nothing of Sgt. Blodgett's life after
his military service discharge, the Social Security Administration list
him as deceased in January of 1973, at age 82, in Almsted Falls,
Blodgett in his WW I uniform.
U.S. Army Engineer,
310th Company B.
Blodgett's honorable enlistment/discharge paper July 26th.,1919
Blodgett's enlistment record November 19th, 1917.
Letter written by Sgt. Lee Blodgett to his parents Feb 9th,
1919 from his station at Archangel, Russia.
for the letter, notice the word "censored" in the lower left.
Transcribed Letter- From Lee Blodgett to
Lydia Blodgett, Royal Oak, Mi.
Feb. 9th, 1919
Archangel, Russia, Archangel, Russia
My Dear Mother and all
Three of your letters came the other day and I received them in my good
old boxcar or leaky roof as we call them. Your letters were the 23, 24,
28 and very interesting as usual. I really don't believe I can make
this very interesting as there is not much I can say this time. I am
now living in a box car near Archangel and doing reconnaissance work
very interesting and pleasant now even if we are tramping through snow
much above or knees. It is about three feet deep and rather soft so you
can well imagine that it is some job. It may be interesting to know
that we can live in a car just as easily and comfortable as in barracks
only with a little less room. There are six bunks in each end of the
car, 3 upper and 3 lower which leaves four feet clear in the
center of it. Our side door is sealed and a small heater placed there
which gives ample heat units to make it very comfortable at all times.
I have heard no news from any of the fronts since I came here so do not
know wither they are still on the war path or not but I guess they are
You mentioned that it had been a long time since you had heard from me
and that Erma phoned you regarding the cable. Well I am wondering if
it was the one I sent you and Erma sending seasons greetings or the
one I sent Erma latter surely mentioning that I was feeling fine. This
was sent after the Xmas greeting but I just looked up the cable receipt
I had and find that the two I sent to you and Erma were sent from here
on the 10th of Dec. and probably it is that one that Erma received and
yours no doubt was delayed somehow.
I hope you are not troubled much now with your high blood pressure and
hope this finds all of you in good health.
I saw an article in one of the papers from the U.S. saying that we
wouldn't get out of here until we had licked the Bolsheviks. But I see
no reason for stating such an opinion as that. I want to leave here
just as soon as possible.
Had a letter from Uncle Will (William H. Parker) and mighty glad to
hear from him.
Goodbye for now much love
diary of Lee Blodgett, Archangel, Russia, 1918-1919.
Sargent Blodgett’s military diary is a standard Army and Navy issued
book published by the Stanton and Van Vellet Co. Chicago Illinois.
Approximately 5 1/2” by 3 1/4", dark greenish - gray with black
lettering. This particular volume contains a French to English word
dictionary, as Sgt. Blodgett’s unit was originally scheduled to land in
France. French and British coin conversions to U. S. dollar and
metric weights and measures charts were also provided. The bulk of the
book contains blank diary sheets. However, pages for home addresses of
family and friends, autograph pages for comrades, and waxed sheets for
carrying stamps were also included.
Unfortunately, the first 25 pages of the diary record have been torn
out. Why, one can only speculate, Sgt. Blodgett may have removed them
for personal reasons, the military may have censored these pages (they
appear to have been removed all at once), or some other unknown mishap
occurred as the diary was passed on to future family members. As these
pages must record Sgt. Blodgett’s transport from the U.S., the
diversion to England and then on to Archangel, Russia we have no record
of his early oversees activity. There are 111 entries in this diary
from September, 1918 to July, 1919. Two pages contain hand written
calendars from March to August of 1919. The last pages of the diary
contain a numerical record of letters received from family and friends.
account begins on Sunday, Sept.22, 1918:
Visited Archangel (Russia) seeing the
prominent churches and also original log cabin
our artillery. English
office work making
many happy returns
to dock and
Ship pulled out at 5pm.
History of the
The World War I Polar Bear expedition, officially named the American
North Russia Expeditionary Force (ANREF), consisted of 5,000 U.S.
troops sent to Arkhangelsk (Archangel), Russia in support of British
interventions in the Russian Civil War. American forces were to fight
the Red Army from September 1918 through July 1919.
British and French objectives in Russia were three fold, first to
prevent Allied war materials stored at Arkhangelsk, for use on the
eastern front, from falling into German or Bolshevik hands, next to
the Czech Legion stranded in the region, and last to stop the spread of
Communism through Bolshevik aggression in Russia.
President Woodrow Wilson in response to a request made by the British
and French governments agreed to send American troops, with the
stipulation that they would be used only for guarding the stock piled
On July 24, 1918 troops in the U.S. Army 85th Division left their
training facility at Camp Custer, Michigan for combat duty in France.
Under President Wilson’s request U.S. Army General John J. Pershing
redirected the 339th Infantry Regiment, the First battalion of the
310th Engineers, and units from the Camp Custer, 85th Division to
England for training and re-outfitting. The 85th Division from Michigan
made up two-thirds of those troops.
Five thousand U.S. troops arrived at Arkhangelsk September 4, 1918, and
were placed under British command. The allied war materials, they were
sent to guard, were already gone having been seized by Bolshevik forces
in August of 1918. American forces were immediately thrown into
offensive operations to rescue the Czech Legion and push back the Red
Army. By the winter of 1918 Allied troops were on the defensive.
Forced to dig in, during the long Russian winter, they never connected
up with the Czech Legion and failed to muster support from the local
anti-Bolshevik populace. On the offensive the Red Army inflicted
numerous casualties and forced an Allied retreat.
After the Allied Armistice with Germany in 1918, public opinion and
pressure in the U.S. forced President Wilson to order the withdrawal of
American forces in northern Russia. In May 1919 ANREF troops were
replaced by the British North Russia Relief Force, and the bulk of
ANREF forces sailed for home. Upon their withdrawal the men of the
ANREF elected to call themselves the “Polar Bears”, and were granted
permission to ware Polar Bear insignia on their sleeves. They were
officially disbanded in August of 1919.
Repatriation of the Dead
In 1929 an expedition under the auspices of the
Veterans of Foreign Wars recovered and identified the remains of 86 of
the 125 American solders, who were killed in conflict or died from
disease (mostly Spanish Flu).
Twelve more were returned to the U.S. in 1934 by the Soviet government,
leaving about 30 still buried in Russian soil. Fifty-six ANREF soldiers
are buried in plots surrounding the Polar Bear monument by sculptor
Leon Hermant in the White Chapel Cemetery in Troy, Michigan.
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