The regimental insignia of the 339th Infantry insignia was designed soon after the close of World War I and has everything to do with the North Russia Expedition in 1918-19, in which this regiment took part. The central focus of the shield is a polar bear walking over a field of ice, representing the conditions in which the regiment served at Archangel in northern Russia. Few of the veterans of that expedition would ever forget the bitter cold, snow and freezing conditions where they fought Russian bolsheviks. The polar bear itself became the central symbol of the regiment; most of the returning doughboys had patches with the outline of a rearing polar bear sewn to their uniform sleeves when the 339th returned to the United States in 1919.
In the left upper quarter of the shield are three birds- two over one- on a field of yellow. Some misidentify the birds as crows, but they are actually merletts, a bird that signifies royalty in France. This section represents the home city of the original Polar Bears and its founder, Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. In 1701, Cadillac persuaded King Louis XIV of France to allow him to establish the settlement of Detroit. Cadillac and his expedition reached the Detroit River on July 23, 1701, and the following day the group traveled north on the Detroit River where they chose a place to build the settlement. Cadillac named the settlement "Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit" in honor of King Louis's (XIV) Minister of Marine. The fort grew into a settlement, to a small town, and then large city, most noted today as the center of the American automobile industry and home to Cadillac Automobiles, which used to incorporate this same symbol in the company shield and cars. This section of the 339th's shield was lifted from the de la Mothe coat of arms to signify "Detroit's Own".
The motto in the banner across the bottom of the shield is in Russian and means "The Bayonet Decides".
The regimental insignia carried over into World War II service. Soon after the recruits were issued their dress uniforms at Camp Shelby, each man recived two of these pins to be worn on the shoulders of the uniform coat. Few were issued after the regiment left Shelby. Original pins such as the one pictured here are difficult to find and quite rare today.
(Many thanks and a tip of the helmet to former Polar Bear president Howard Maki (D,339) and Barton Ellison of Bellevue, Washington, for their assistance and information used for this page!)
posted May 2003