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Sgt. Lee 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 Engineers.

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, Cuyuhoga, Ohio.


 
Lee Blodgett in his WW I uniform.
U.S. Army Engineer, 310th Company B.
 

Sgt. Lee Blodgett's honorable enlistment/discharge paper July 26th.,1919

     
Lee 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.
(Transcription of letter follows)





Envelope for the letter, notice the word "censored" in the lower left.


Transcribed Letter- From Lee Blodgett to Lydia Blodgett, Royal Oak, Mi.

Red Cross stationary                Sgt. Lee Blodgett 1st. Battalion, Company B,310 Engineer
#36                                         American North Russian Expedition Forces        
Feb. 9th, 1919                         Via- 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 all right.

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
Lee

  


Military diary of Lee Blodgett, Archangel, Russia, 1918-1919.

Lee Blodgett’s Diary

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.

 His account begins on Sunday, Sept.22, 1918:

          Visited Archangel (Russia) seeing the prominent churches and also original log cabin
          home of Peter the Great built in 1693.

          Monday, May 12,1919
          All quiet from John and only a few shots were fired from our artillery. English
         gunboat came here and fired four shots at the Bolshevik’s defenses destroy three
         of river M.G. P.’s

         Thursday, July 10, 1919
         Very busy all day getting Co. box packed and doing a little office work making
         ready for embarking in the morning. On this date I wish Emma many happy returns
         of the day.

         Friday, July 11, 1919- (leaving Russia)
        Just one year ago today we left N.Y. for overseas. Hiked five miles to dock and
        if I ever was so nearly all in it was when I got there. Ship pulled out at 5pm.

       Last entry- (back in U.S,)
       Monday, July 2.1919
       Moved from barracks to tents beside the railroad track and probably will stay here
       overnight. One year ago we left this camp for overseas.       

A Brief History of the “Polar Bears”

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 and French 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 rescue 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 war materials.

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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