The Polar Front: A Historical Narrative Derived from the Oral History of the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces
Dr. Curtis Gruenler and Professor Alex Galarza
In the summer of 1918, with the Armistice of World War I rapidly approaching, President Woodrow Wilson sent the American North Russia Expeditionary Force (ANREF), colloquially known as the Polar Bears, to Northern Russia in order to secure allied munitions from the Bolshevik Army and reclaim the Russian front for Allied forces. Out of the 5,500 men sent to Arkhangelsk, Russia, 75% percent were from Michigan. In 1978, a group of Hope College students interviewed fifteen members of the ANREF who hailed from West Michigan, inquiring about their experiences. Thirty-eight years later, the interviews, diaries, and other primary sources gathered from the veterans by the students have been converted into a digital timeline, one which narrates these soldiers’ journey through the frozen North. Through both audio-visual and graphic media, the timeline also illuminates the thoughts and sentiments of the soldiers, particularly regarding their trials and tribulations throughout the campaign. After being marooned, starved, and neglected by the U.S. military for almost a year, the men’s opinions of their country varied. This project revisits the role of small town America in the nation’s first major international conflict.
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