The 339th Infantry was one of three infantry regiments of the 85th Infantry Division, Army of the United States. The regiment went overseas with the division in 1944 and was assigned to Fifth Army, 15th Army Group in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. As a unit of the 85th Infantry or "Custer" Division, the 339th Infantry saw combat service in Italy from March 1944 until the surrender of German forces in May 1945. The 339th Infantry was nicknamed the "Polar Bears" because of the unit's service at Archangel in North Russia during the first World War. The 339th Infantry was the core element of "Regimental Combat Team 9", a combat organization composed of an infantry regiment with an attached artillery battalion, an engineer company and a medical company. "Combat Team 9" included the 339th Infantry, 910th Field Artillery Battalion, C Company, 310th Engineer Battalion, and C Company, 310th Medical Battalion.
The regiment's role in World War II began in 1942 when the 85th Infantry Division, one of the first all-draftee filled divisions authorized, was officially activated at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Preparations had been ongoing since mid-April when a cadre of officers and non-commissioned officers arrived at the sparsely provisioned camp to get organization underway. Many of the officers assigned to the 339th infantry had jus completed training and promotions at Fort Benning and the re-activated "Polar Bear" regiment was the first real field experience for many of them. Under the guidance of Colonel Donald Stroh and executive officer Lt. Colonel G. R. Schweickert, the officers set up headquarters and attended to the pile of paperwork involved in getting a regiment ready for training. Among the new officers was one officer who could appreciate the heraldry of the 339th Infantry, Captain Charles Isely. This tough Illinois-born officer was proud of his military service and was immediately enthralled with the history of the 339th Infantry. He made every effort possible to let the new recruits know something about the old regiment and what that Polar Bear symbol meant. Another officer who came into the regiment soon after activation was Lt. Paul Schultz who would author The 85th Infantry Division in World War II soon after war's end.
While in Italy, the regiment had a sequential order of commanders, the first being Colonel James Matthews, who was forced to resign because of illness. He was followed by Colonel Brookner Brady who led the regiment until October 1944 when he was replaced by Colonel William Fitts from division headquarters. Colonel Fitts remained in command until December 31, 1944, when the 339th Infantry reverted to the regimental executive officer, Lt. Colonel John English, who commanded the regiment until it was deactivated in August 1945.
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