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31st Infantry veterans visit Genoa today

by Dave Price
Special to The R-C

They fought on Bataan and Corregidor in 1941 and ’42, on the beaches of Inchon in 1950 and at Pork Chop Hill in 1953, they were in Vietnam between 1965 and ’71, and remain active today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now veterans of the U.S. Army 31st Infantry Regiment – also known as the “Polar Bears” – have converged for their annual reunion this weekend in Reno. The three-day reunion is based at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino and offers the Reno, Lake Tahoe, Carson City and Carson Valley area as a playground.

The veterans are expected to tour Genoa, Carson City and Virginia City today after taking a dinner boat cruise on Lake Tahoe on Thursday night.

On Saturday, a general meeting of the 31st U.S. Infantry Association will be held and a banquet dinner that evening at the Atlantis, with assistant coordinator Jack Logan (6th Battalion commander) of Reno serving as the keynote speaker.

The reunion will provide an opportunity for veterans of the historic 31st Infantry to reflect on some truly special memories, according to event coordinator Tim Miller (Delta Company, 6th Battalion).

“It’s like a brotherhood, so when we get together every few years, it’s like a gigantic family reunion,” Miller said.

For these “Polar Bears,” any reunion is more than a time to reminisce on their own experiences. And it’s a time to remember the legacy of a unit born in 1916 in the Philippines and whose early assignments were in Siberia (1918-19) and then as part of the International Settlement in Shanghai.

The 31st was also the main unit defending Manila after the Japanese invaded the Philippines in December, 1941. The result was a campaign that held out on the Bataan Peninsula until April 9, 1942, and afterward, thousands of American and Philippine soldiers died or were killed during the ensuing Bataan Death March.

The legend continued to grow in conflicts that followed, as the 31st produced five Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in Korea (1950-53) and two in Vietnam (1966-71).

“You have quite a bit of history there,” Miller said. “Those guys are the highlight.”

After the legendary Inchon landing orchestrated by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the “Polar Bears” were in the thick of the fighting during the Chosin Reservoir campaign, which saw 17 days of brutal fighting in freezing weather between Nov. 27 and Dec. 13, 1950. Though outnumbered and surrounded, the U.N. troops broke away and inflicted crippling losses on the Chinese forces. American casualties numbered 1,029 dead, 4,582 wounded and 4,894 missing at Chosin Reservoir.

“We have 19 Chosin Reservoir members returning,” Miller said. “This is the largest reunion of Chosin Reservoir survivors from the 31st in the last 20 years, which makes this a pretty big deal.”

Miller, who was drafted in 1967 after graduating from Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., went through basic training at Fort Ord, then “went straight to Vietnam.” During his 15-month tour, he saw action in the Tet counter offensives of 1968 and 1969, received two Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars, received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, was a four-time Army Commendation Medal recipient and was a Combat Infantry Badge recipient.

More than 300 registrations have already been received. Among the commitments already received are eight to 10 from World War II veterans, according to Miller.

“Every day, we’re getting more registration. Any vet is welcome, too. We won’t close the door to any vet,” Miller said, adding that contributions are also welcome.

For more information about the reunion, contact Miller at (775) 781-757.