By Staff Sgt. Mark A. Moore II, 2nd Brigade Combat Team PAO NCOICAugust 18, 2016
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 18, 2016) -- Soldiers of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment "Polar Bears," 2nd Brigade Combat Team, alongside regimental veterans, gathered Thursday through Saturday for their centennial reunion held here on Fort Drum.
The event brought current and former Soldiers together to share history, celebrate their lineage and honor the sacrifices made during their 100 years of uninterrupted service to the nation.
"You veterans built the history, honor and legacy of this regiment through your sacrifices, commitment, blood, sweat and tears," said Lt. Col. Isaac Rademacher, 4-31 Infantry commander. "Your lineage and your patriotic service inspires us every day to carry the honor of this regiment forward."
The unit's lineage began in 1916, amidst World War I, in the Philippines. Soldiers first saw action in 1918 through 1919 in Siberia, where they guarded the Trans-Siberian railroad and earned their nickname, the "Polar Bears," for the fierce predators they often encountered.
The unit is most notably recognized for the Soldiers' participation in nearly every major conflict over the past century, and they have even supported what some would call atypical infantry missions.
George Mauldin, a former commander of 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, and Vietnam War veteran, refers to that first mission as just such.
"In some cases, they weren't really wars," Mauldin said. "For example, when (the Soldiers) were sent to Siberia, they protected the military supplies that we were sending to the 'White Russians,' the port where the U.S. military's supplies came in, and the railway all the way to Vladivostok (Russia). That's the kind of unusual missions I'm talking about."
The "Polar Bears" formally honored their commitment to the nation Friday by holding a military equipment static display, pass and review ceremony, and valorous award presentation on the Magrath Sports Complex field.
Rademacher addressed the audience by first recognizing the veterans in attendance by their various periods of service that dated back to World War II.
Representing the oldest category of attendees was retired Chief Master Sgt. Paul Kerchum, a Bataan Death March survivor and the oldest living member of the regiment present for the reunion.
Kerchum later met Staff Sgt. John Flynn, C Company, 4-31 Infantry, on the parade grounds, to honor one of the regiment's most recently deployed Soldiers, by presenting him with the Army's Bronze Star Medal with Valor for his exceptionally valorous actions against an armed enemy during operations in Afghanistan.
Flynn noted the difference between what veterans like Kerchum endured to the amenities current Soldiers enjoy while deployed.
"I think everything they have gone through, the things they have done for our country, and their sacrifices can't even be compared to how we fight now and the luxuries we have while we are overseas," he said. "It's very, very important to me that we maintain those standards and uphold the traditions and legacies."
He continued to affirm the importance of events like this and how they help pinpoint his Soldiers' views on the missions they receive.
"Understanding the history is a big part of the Army in general, even more so with serving with 4-31 (Infantry) because of how important our history has been. We have fought in almost every war over the last 100 years," Flynn said. "We have been in almost every major engagement to date, and having our Soldiers get to meet (veterans) and know that history, I think it motivates them and it keeps them focused on what's actually important."
Mauldin had his own take away for the Soldiers in attendance. He said he hopes events like this gives them confidence in the process, pride to be a Soldier, and the realization that they need to pick up where they had left off.
"A person like myself, an infantry, rifle company commander, we dealt with death and a lot of people made a lot of huge sacrifices to make this regiment proud," he said. "It's the sacrifices we all made to be where we are now."
Mauldin added that he's "really proud of the men and women who are following us, I just want to say that about them."
The event concluded with a formal banquet, complete with a grog ceremony that featured the regiment's coveted Shanghai Bowl.
"The Shanghai Bowl was commissioned in 1932 in that city when the regiment went to help secure the international community," said Grady Smith, regimental historian. "It was part of the regiment in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked. The night before General Wainwright (Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright, allied commander of the Philippines) had to surrender his command, three men took that bowl out and buried it so that the Japanese would not find it."
Smith mentioned that it wasn't until three and a half years later the bowl was recovered and returned to its rightful home.
To this day, the bowl sets in the halls of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, and it serves as a reminder to all who pass of the will, determination and human sacrifices the regiment has endured over the past 100 years.