The Polar Bear Monument depicts a menacing polar bear, sculpted from white Georgian marble, advancing past a cross with a WWI helmet strapped to it. Designed by sculptor Leon Hermant, it is a monument to the "Polar Bears", a portion of Michigan's 339th Infantry Regiment, who were sent to Archangel in Northern Russia in 1918 to prevent a German advance and help reopen the Eastern Front. Instead, they fought Bolshevik revolutionaries for months after the Armistice ended the official fighting. They had killed 94 before they withdrew in April of 1919. In 1929, two commissions were sent to Archangel to recover the bodies, and they found the remains of 86 of the men. On Memorial Day in 1930, 56 of them were buried here.
In 1988, the Monument and surrounding graves were recognized as a registered Michigan Historic Site and a state historical marker was erected nearby. The marker reads as follows (note that the text provides the wrong number of burials that actually took place on May 30, 1930):
THE POLAR BEARS
In the summer of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson, at the urging of Britain and France, sent an infantry regiment to north Russia to fight the Bolsheviks in hopes of persuading Russia to rejoin the war against Germany. The 339th Infantry Regiment, with the first battalion of the 310th Engineers and the 337th Ambulance and Hospital Companies, arrived at Archangel, Russia, on September 4, 1918. About 75 percent of the fifty-five hundred Americans who made up the North Russian Expeditionary Forces were from Michigan; of those a majority were from Detroit. The newspapers called them "Detroit's Own,"; they called themselves "Polar Bears." They marched on Belle Isle on July 4, 1919. Ninety-four of them were killed in action after the United States decided to withdraw from Russia but before Archangel's harbor thawed.
In 1929, five former "Polar Bears" of the 339th Infantry Regiment returned to north Russia in an attempt to recover the bodies of fellow soldiers who had been killed in action or died of exposure or disease ten years earlier. The group was selected by the members of the Polar Bear Association under the auspices of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The trip was sponsored by the federal government and the state of Michigan. The delegates recovered eighty-six bodies. Fifty-six of these were buried on this site on May 30, 1930. The Polar Bear monument was carved from white Georgian marble; the steps, from white North Carolina granite. The black granite base symbolizes a fortress, and the cross and helmet denote war burial.