It is with great sadness that I write. On February 24 my father, Gerard A. “Jerry” Francois, followed his last command to attend his Supreme Commander. On Weds. , he developed a bladder infection and pneumonia. His lungs were too damaged from the pneumonia in December to fight, but on his last day he still managed to sing a little and say goodbye to those he loved. He was so proud of having served with the 3/31st and spent most of his life trying to get the real story of what happened at the Chosin Reservoir told. It was his greatest honor to escort the Colors and Bowl home to American soil at Ft. Sill.
After his stroke 23 years ago, there were only a few phrases he could say or write. He would tell people about his service by saying the words “Prisoner of War” and writing out 31st. During the rehab from his pneumonia in December, he had to learn to cough and clear his throat. We would tell him to “Growl like a Polar Bear” to which he would growl and reply “Polar Bears”. One of the things he said on his last day was “Polar Bears”.
He lived his life as he served his country, with honor and respect. Pro Patria were not just words but his way of life.
Velox, a massive Polar Bear, arrived at the Denver Zoo in 1941 after perhaps nine years with Ringling Brother’s Circus, but more likely just seven as she may have come to Ringling when she was two years old.News reports note Velox was named as the 31st Infantry Mascot in 1952. Her circus years were at best difficult, there are many reports of Polar Bears dying with Ringling Brother’s. Her winter home in Sarasota, Florida appears to have been much better than the small cages she was kept in during the Circus’s touring season. It was brutal and cruel.
Velox quickly became a star attraction at the Denver Zoo for twenty years. Eventually blind she also suffered from varied aliments due to her captivity. Velox is still recalled by all those who visited the zoo during the 40’s until 1961, several generations of children, millions of visitors, and was from World War II, Korea and since a popular date destination for military. Velox seems to have had a difficult zoo mate for a year when she first arrived, a sea lion tormented her until one day she swatted it and well there are two stories, one is she ate it and the other omits that. Velox may have also killed two African lions while with Ringling Bro’s. She was known to splash water and turn a hose on the crowds viewing her.
Her plight was not unknown to America and that is likely part of her appeal, Velox was a featured character in a popular children’s short story by Jean Stafford “Into the Zoo”. This story is still studied by students at the college level. Who, what, when and how the 31st U.S. Infantry took her a mascot is unknown. I recall Velox and my surprise after coming home from Vietnam, on a college date, seeing the 31st Memorial Marker. Then until recently, I forgot about her. Velox fits the kind of Bear that should represent the 31st; she saw much in her long life was a fighter and overcame adversity. Adversity is no stranger to the 31st Infantry, a history from Siberia, China, Bataan and Corregidor; then into North Korea and the final battles of the area that became the DMZ, the years of “peace keeping” in South Korea. Later the Vietnam War, up north in I Corps and down in the Mekong Delta. I served in the 31st up north in the Que Son Valley, later in the Mekong but that was an aviation unit. Now so many years later the 31st is still meeting challenges and adversity with honor and conviction.
Background: Congress passed a spending bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of FY 2014 — the package contains a provision that will repeal the COLA penalty for Chapter 61 medical retirees, as well as thousands of Survivor Benefits Program recipients, but it does not include more than 800,000 military retirees under age 62.
“The Omnibus Bill doesn’t go far enough to protect the earned retirement benefit of all military retirees,” said VFW National Commander Bill Thien, “and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States will continue to work to fix this injustice.”
Action Needed: Call and email your legislators today. Tell them that the appropriations omnibus package doesn’t go far enough to protect ALL retirees from the one percent COLA reduction, and to support legislation that will provide full and immediate repeal of the COLA penalty.