History of the 31st Infantry Regiment
Few regiments can equal the record of the 31st Infantry. Its motto, “For Our Country”, is demonstrated by thirty years of service to the nation.
The 31st was first born in August 1916, when components of the 8th, 12th, and 15th Infantry Regiments were joined. The regiment has the unique distinction of being the only U.S. Infantry Regiment that has never been stationed in the continental United States. It is the Foreign Legion of the U.S. Army.
The regiment went into training for any participation that might become necessary during World War I. The call to duty cam in 1918, when coupled with the 27th Regiment, they were dispatched to Siberia. For more than two years these two outfits kept the Trans-Siberian railroad open. It was from this tour of duty that the regiment gained its colorful nickname, “The Polar Bears”, and also earned its first battle streamer.
In 1920 the unit was ordered to the Philippines, where it was garrisoned in Manila, and where the chance was afforded for the development of the 2d nickname, “Thirty First”.
When many of the major cities of Japan were destroyed in the earthquake of 1923, the 31st sent a battalion to assist with the relief work, little realizing that in eighteen years; they would be fighting these same Japanese.
In February 1932, turbulent China broke in to open conflict, and the regiment, in full battle dress, was sent to Shanghai to join the 4th Marines in guarding the International Settlement. For more than five weeks they were under fire, as Chinese and Japanese troops shot over the American troops guarding the Settlement. For this encounter, the regiment won the only battle award given in peacetime, the Yangtze Ribbon.
After five months of service in China, the Polar Bears returned to their station in Manila. When the Japanese landed in the Philippines in December 1941, the 31st fought, but when it became apparent that capture was inevitable, Captain George A. Sansep burned the colors and standards to keep them out of the enemy’s hands.
On 19 January 1946, the 31st Infantry Regiment returned to the rolls of the U.S. Army. And when the famous “Shanghai Bowl”, made in 1925, in Shanghai, of 1,500 Chinese silver dollars and inscribed with the names of the Regimental officers was sent to Korea in time for the activation ceremony. The “Shanghai Bowl” had been buried on Corregidor just prior to that Island’s capture by the Japanese. After the war the bowl was recovered none the worse for wear. In Korea the 31st was garrisoned in Seoul, the capitol, and for one year a battalion guarded the eastern part of the 38th Parallel.
The following tribute and letter from General MacArthur to the 31st Infantry, dated 4 August 1946, best describes the Regiment:
“There is no unit in the American Army which has served with greater distinction both in peace and in war, than the 31st Infantry. Never stationed within our continental limits, as the advanced element in our Pacific Defense, the Regiment has always performed its assigned mission. At Bataan, it achieved its greatest glory as its lines held firm time and time again against the assault of overwhelming superior forces. As it now faces a future of continued service in our country’s cause, its regimental colors fly under a halo of tradition, of honor, duty and sacrifice, which will be an inspiration for American Armies for all time to come.”