Crownover featured in PBS documentary

by Laura Sweeney

lsweeney@my.madonna.edu

Roger Crownover, professor and chair of the History Department at Madonna University, made his television debut Nov. 8 in the documentary Voices of a Never Ending Dawn.

In the film, Crownover explains the United States’ decision to join World War I and President Woodrow Wilson’s tough choice that affected many Michiganders’ lives. 

“The idea was to go into Russia and support the white army [the Russians who were fighting against the Bolsheviks.]  So why not send some soldiers in and help the white army? Wilson has a very difficult time.  He loses sleep over it.  Some people believe he was close to a nervous breakdown making this decision,” Crownover stated in the film.

Making his decision, Wilson sent the 339th Infantry, with the first division of the 310th Engineers and the 337th Ambulance and Hospital Companies, to fight against the Bolsheviks in Northern Russia during World War I during the summer of 1918.   Bolsheviks was an earlier name used for communists.

Voices tells the stories of the lives and battles of the soldiers, who were mostly from Detroit and the surrounding areas of Michigan. They fought in harsh weather conditions and gave everything.  These men became known as “The Polar Bears”.

When the war ended and soldiers elsewhere went home, the Polar Bears continued to fight for months without knowing why they were not going home to their families.

“Everybody is celebrating in the world, except in Michigan.  There’s a big cry of ‘Why? Where’s our soldiers?’ Finally, the family members – husbands’ wives, sweethearts, mothers and fathers- start demonstrating. They have parades and gatherings.  All saying this is atrocious and demanding President Wilson bring our soldiers back,” explains Crownover.

These cries from Michigan were heard, and the Polar Bears came back home to a parade on Belle Isle July 4, 1919.

Crownover, considered an expert on the subject, studied the Polar Bears for his master’s and doctorate thesis and continued to show his interests by writing a book, “The United States Intervention in North Russia — 1918, 1919 The Polar Bear Odyssey.”  His book focuses on the reaction of the American families, specifically the Michigan families.

Produced and directed by Pamela Peak, Voices of a Never Ending Dawn aired for the first time on television the weekend before Veterans Day on WTVS. Other PBS stations will also be showing the documentary during the winter months and into the spring of 2010.

Peak’s grandfather was a Polar Bear and Larry Chase, her cousin and Executive Producer, insisted that she research the story of these soldiers called “Detroit’s Own.”

“When I looked into the full story of the WWI soldiers known as ‘The Polar Bears’, I was astonished at what I had found,” said Peak, on the documentary’s website. “I felt that creating a documentary film about their incredible sacrifices and the loyalty they displayed to their country was the least I could do to honor them.”

For more information about the Polar Bears, the making of this film, to purchase a DVD, and more go to www.polarbeardocumentary.com.