This poem was composed in May 1996 and updated in February 2004, and May 2008 as a tribute to Polar Bears past and present by Karl Lowe, Colonel, US Army (Retired), veteran of Company D, 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry (Vietnam and Cambodia, 1970).
I am the 31st Infantry
I am the 31st Infantry – the Polar Bear! Born in Manila, I guarded America’s distant outposts. Wherever peace was challenged on Asia’s troubled shores, I met the enemy face to face, locked with him in mortal combat, and passed the test of valor. All for my country…. Pro Patria!
In far Siberia, I guarded Vladivostok’s streets, secured the Suchan mines, and patrolled the great Trans-Siberian railroad. Across the frozen wastes, I chased the Bolshevik rabble, guarded my back against Cossack and Japanese treachery, and spilled my first blood in the wintry dawn of a new age. As the red tide swept across Siberia, I stood victorious in every fight. I became the Polar Bear!
When I returned to Manila in the warm and pleasant land of my birth, the great Pacific remained uncalm. From the north, the distant drums of war rose to a crescendo as the rising sun cast its glare on China’s vulnerable shore. I sailed to Shanghai in ’32 and dared the invader to step across my line. My untrusted ally was now my enemy. I shouted, beware the Polar Bear…Pro Patria!
Samurai soldiers of the rising sun flashed their mighty swords, but defeat would be their destiny. In a decade, their silver wings darted out of the clouds and shattered the Philippine dawn. From Cuartel de Espagna and Estado Mayor in Manila’s Post, I raced to meet the foe. At Abucay Hacienda and on the slopes of Mount Samat, I gave Japan its first bitter taste of my steel. Never disturb me, I am the Polar Bear!
“No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam”, forgotten, starved, sick, with clothing torn, and bullets gone, I gave my last full measure of devotion on Bataan. I sadly burned my proud colors and buried the Shanghai bowl with my eye on tomorrow. Growing smaller by the day, I trod the death march, struggled for life at Cabanatuan, and sailed the stinking hell ships to the factories and mines of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. One of every three would fall along the way, but wherever one survived, the Polar Bear’s heart lived on!
Born anew in ’46, I took my place in the “land of the morning calm”. Again from the north, the war cry rang, coming ominously on a chill wind as I patrolled Korea’s hills. In ’48, I left that place to occupy the defeated land of my former tormentor. At Camp Crawford on Hokkaido, I warily watched restless Red armies gathering strength across the Sea of Japan. I shouted, do not provoke me… I am the Polar Bear!
But provoke me they did and I returned. At Inchon, I turned the North Korean flank, raced into burning Osan, and closed the invader’s back door. As cold winter winds blew, I went ashore at Iwon and marched toward the Yalu. Across a hundred miles of icy hills, I fought, froze, and finally retreated as China’s masses descended from Manchuria. At bloody Chosin, two of every three would fall, but I survived to fight again. Beware the wounded Polar Bear!
At Hwachon and Kumhwa, I stopped the Red tide and recaptured my pride. On Triangle Hill, Old Baldy, OP Dale, Pork Chop Hill, and many more, I dug in deep, stood my ground, paid the price in blood, licked my wounds, and fought the swarming Chinese to a standstill. When peace returned to the land of the morning calm, I was among the few selected to stay and defend that blood soaked ground. I stood my watch proud and strong, for I am the Polar Bear.
I formed battle groups of the atomic age in ’57. As a reservist in California, air mobility’s pioneer at Fort Rucker, and Seoul’s guardian on Korea’s DMZ, I ushered in a new era. With one foot in America, part of me came home for the first time, “America’s Foreign Legion” no more. In peace, as in war, I soldiered with pride and prepared for a future war that, as always, came too soon.
When war’s claxon sounded in far-off Vietnam, I answered the call. At Fort Devens and Fort Lewis I raised my head, learned my lessons well, and went straight and true to the sound of the guns. In War Zone C, the Mekong Delta, Cholon, Hiep Duc, the Que Son Valley, bloody Long An, the Plain of Reeds, Mount Nui Chom, and Cambodia, I answered bullet for bullet, patrolled the highlands and wetlands, and gave no ground. The sad saffron flag had no better friend than the Polar Bear!
At home again, I taught my lessons at the schools of Infantry and Artillery and the National Training Center. At Fort Ord and Korea, I served with the Bayonet and Indianhead Divisions. My colors furled briefly in ’95, but my spirit would not die. The ghosts of a thousand battles summoned me back and I returned. I stood with the Division of Mountaineers at Fort Drum to await my country’s summons.
The call came soon. In Bosnia, I protected the victims and separated foes bearing hatreds of a thousand years. When treachery struck the twin towers of New York and the seat of our defenses, I again answered the call, chasing a determined foe from Afghan heights. I came home but did not rest. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, and at Ft Drum, I planted my feet on three continents at once, a feat matched by none.
To Baghdad, the shrine of Khadamiyah, and the fertile groves along the Euphrates, I came again…and yet again. Again I fought, I bled, and turned the “Triangle of Death” into a land of tranquility. No one could ask for more of our nation’s valiant few. I am the Polar Bear… timeless defender of my land and its people. PRO PATRIA!