Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
This month, we are reflecting on service of all sorts. This weekend marks the auspicious dates of Veterans/Remembrance Day, Global Victims of Communism Day, the fall of the Berlin Wall (effectively ending the Cold War), and the Marine Corps birthday. Let us turn, then to reflect on largely forgotten service, by Buffalo Soldiers, the frozen chosen, Polar Bears, and “the man who would be khan.” Each of us can look around our own communities and circles to refresh memories of those who served with honor.
Earlier this month, the service of Henry Lafayette Dodge was called to our attention. I invite you now to consider the Buffalo Soldiers. While the term was first given to the 10th Cavalry, by the tribes facing them, the term stretched to apply to all four black regiments, with white officers, sent off to do the dirty, thankless jobs on the American frontier after the Civil War. These were the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. While the 7th Cavalry, “Garryowen,” as Custer’s regiment, gets the most recognition to this day, there were seven other white cavalry regiments and the two black cavalry regiments, all having their share of the grueling years of policing, garrisoning, and fighting in the American West.
The black units’ officers repeatedly reported substandard equipment and food, due to contractors’ cheating the government. They were not there to commit genocide, contrary to the left’s lies, but were in the same cleft stick as Henry Lafayette Dodge, trying to enforce U.S. policy as it shifted and was twisted by American civilians looking to get ever-expanding economic benefit in the contested areas. The long term remotely deployed service generated significant wear and tear on the troops, which is why President Harrison ordered tracking of suicides in the service.
The Buffalo Soldiers went on to fight in the Spanish-American War, the Philippines, and the punitive expedition into Mexico after bandits (an evergreen threat). Note that these all have one white officer in common: “Black” Jack Pershing did not get that nickname because he was tough. It was actually a softening, a cleaning of the hateful sneer of West Point cadets who hated his strict discipline and lashed out by labeling him [N-word] Pershing. Why? Because he actually respected the men he led for their competence, for the content of their character.
Korea — The Coldest, The Forgotten War:
Consider that the men who fought and froze in Korea, in the first war of the era of mutual destruction, are now in their 80s. They had no great parades, in notable contrast to both World War I and World War II. They served with the same distinction as these earlier cohorts and as those who first endured scorn and then belated praise for Vietnam.
Indeed, retired Colonel, and retired Congressman, Sam Johnson flew in both the Korean and Vietnam War, becoming one of the most senior and most oppressed prisoners in Hanoi. While his politically showboating (with less time in captivity and far less distinguished combat record) Senate counterpart got all the headlines, Sam Johnson quietly, faithfully served until he retired as he passed his 80th year of a life well led. Or, consider Tibor Rubin, who first survived the Nazi death camps and then the North Koreans’ hellish POW camps, where he repeatedly saved lives of his adopted fellow citizens, applying his bitterly won survival knowledge to these new hell holes. For this Tibor Rubin was very belatedly properly recognized with the Medal of Honor in 2005 by President Bush.
The first Cold Warriors:
Earlier, we reflected on a Syrian brown bear, Wojcek. Now let us remember the Polar Bears, a unit recruited heavily from Michigan, sent into battle two months before November 11, 1918, and not released by President Wilson until there was such political pressure as to force their withdrawal, completed in July of 1919!
Because of the timing of their deployment, the 339th Regiment was ravaged by the Spanish flu before they ever faced Bolshevik bullets. Isolated from the rest of the war, and caught in grand geopolitics with layers of British and French leadership, the Polar Bears may have been the first American victims of “mission creep.” If the War to End all Wars ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, how, exactly, would American soldiers still be legitimately ordered to continue combat operations?
The Bolsheviks were not acknowledged by governments outside the Central Powers, and were in power because the Germans had smuggled Lenin from Swiss exile to Russia in a train car under diplomatic seal. They did so for the purpose of overturning an allied government, getting the terms the Kaiser desired and freeing German forces to go to the Western Front. So, the argument could be made that we were still fighting an illegitimate tool of German aggression inside one of our ally’s borders.
The Polar Bears found themselves in the only acknowledged direct combat with Communist Russians. There was no Congressional authorization to continue intervention in a civil war involving an ally that had already declared a separate peace with the Central Powers in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed on March 3, 1918. The initial deployment had made sense, seeking to rescue a large friendly Czechoslovakian force trying to get out of Russia and reengage the Central Powers, and seeking to support the liberal White Russian forces in the hope that Russians would reengage, putting pressure on the Germans from the East. After the 11 November 1918 Armistice, this mission ended, yet Wilson and the British still hoped to reverse the Bolshevik victories in the Russian civil war.
Because Russian northern ports froze solid in the winter, there was no immediate exit, unless we acknowledged Lenin’s government and allowed our troops to be transported by rail under communist supervision. In addition to the Polar Bears, who entered through Archangel, another American force entered through the eastern port of Vladivostok:
The American Expeditionary Force Siberia was commanded by Major General William S. Graves and eventually totaled 7,950 officers and enlisted men. The AEF Siberia included the U.S. Army’s 27th and 31st Infantry Regiments, plus large numbers of volunteers from the 13th, 62nd Infantry Regiments and 12th Infantry Regiments of the 8th Division, Graves’ former division command.
Contrast both the command leadership situation and the bad equipment decisions forced upon the Polar Bears:
In June 1918, 4,487 men, about 75% of whom were from Michigan and more specifically the Detroit area, were drafted for the war against Germany. The American troops, known as “Detroit’s Own”, consisted of the 339th Infantry, 310th Engineers, 337th Field Hospital, and the 337th Ambulance Company. They were trained for a month at Camp Custer, Michigan and then shipped off to England where they were equipped and sent out into the war. Upon arriving, however, they were told that their destination had been changed. Their U.S. equipment was traded out with British grade winter gear and Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles. The change in gear was because they were now being sent to the bitter cold northern Russia and there was already a large supply of Russian rifles and ammunition there making the switch to Russian rifles economical and logistical but not desirable. The rifles were said to be very unreliable in that the ammunition jammed frequently and they were very inaccurate. To add to the disappointment of being sent to the barren land of northern Russia and the removal of their U.S. equipment, they were also placed under British command. The British already had an expeditionary force there and were the main advocate for the U.S. involvement.
The troubles for the Polar Bears started before they even arrived at the battle front. Shortly after leaving the English port, an outbreak of Influenza ravaged the convoy killing over 100 soldiers. Also, upon arriving in Archangel, they found that almost all of the military supplies that they had been sent to protect and retrieve had already been taken by the Reds.
With poor intelligence, inferior rifles, and a layer of foreign leaders who did not face sanction by the U.S. Congress and the voters who would punish the politicians, the Polar Bears could not come close to achieving Wilson’s fantasy goals:
The British and French initially hoped to cajole the new government into abandoning its peace agreement with Germany and reopening the eastern front, and anti-Bolshevik voices in the U.S. government assured Wilson that an American presence would inspire waves of former Russian soldiers to rise and sweep away the rag-tag communists.
It didn’t happen. Nor did the Americans’ arrival protect large quantities of military and hospital supplies shipped when Russia was an ally; in fact, Nelson says, it prompted the Bolsheviks to loot the storehouses and flee.
As the months passed, the soldiers questioned their mission and the officers had no answers. In Detroit, the wives and parents of the Polar Bears grew frustrated, then furious — and loud.
Eventually, the government heard them. By July, the Polar Bears were home.
Today, Mike Grobbel, the grandson of one of the Polar Bears, Clement Grobbel, is president of the Polar Bear Memorial Association. This past Memorial Day, 100 years after their mission ended, Michiganders gathered in Troy at the unit’s memorial to honor the fallen and remember the service of thousands. VFW Magazine ran a feature article on the expedition, marking the centennial. On the 90th anniversary, Michigan Minutes ran a story on “Detroit’s Polar Bears:”
The Man Who Would be Khan:
In 2004, a story in the Atlantic Monthly told of a soldier diplomat, whose story stands for many more quiet American military professionals serving around the world this very day:
“Mongolia is a vast country completely surrounded by two anti-American empires, Russia and China,” S. Galsanjamts, a member of Mongolia’s national-security council, told me recently. “It is therefore a symbol of the kind of independence America wants to encourage in the world.” Today, more often than not, the United States is encouraging that sort of independence not by intervening militarily on a grand scale but, rather, by placing a few quietly effective officers in key locations around the globe.
[Arriving in Mongolia in 2001] Colonel Tom Wilhelm, [became] one of the best of this new breed of American soldier-diplomats.
[…qualifications laid out in a stunning portfolio of training and experiences…]
Wilhelm, with the active support of Ambassador John Dinger, quickly provided a sense of purpose. He and Dinger developed a “three pillars” strategy for the country and persuaded the Mongolian military to sign on. The three pillars are:
1) Securing Mongolia’s borders not against a conventional military threat from China (such security would be impossible) but against illegal border incursions, criminal activities to finance terrorism, and transnational terrorism itself, particularly by the Uighur separatists of western China. Aided by the Chechens and the broad militant Islamic network, Uighur extremists represent the future of terrorism in Central Asia.
2) Preparing the Mongolian military to play an active role in international peacekeeping, in order to raise its profile in global forums and thus provide Mongolia with diplomatic protection from its large, rapacious neighbors. The dispatch of Mongolian troops to post-Saddam Iraq elicited shrill cries of annoyance from Russia and China, but it was the first building block of this pillar.
3) Improving Mongolia’s capacity to respond to natural disasters, most notably drought.
Note that real experts were seeing the Chinese as the far more significant threat to their neighbors 15 years ago when the “experts” in the American national security establishment were still blathering about capitalism changing China in the direction of liberalism. There are men, and a few women, in many places trying to keep those countries or regions out of the news, meaning keeping things from going badly wrong. It has been so for many decades. Their service, like the “Silent Service” submariners, is worth remembering.
Who else comes to your mind in light of the title “Forgotten Service,” or upon reading these four accounts?