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.