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IDENTIFIED 31ST INFANTRY REGIMENT “POLAR BEARS” OFFICER’S PATTERN 1911 US ARMY SERVICE UNIFORM –  EXCELLENT CONDITION UNIFORM FROM A VERY HISTORIC UNIT:  This Pattern 1911 US Army Officer’s Service Uniform consisting of the coat, trousers and belt, has survived in particularly nice condition, with the added value of bearing the shoulder patch of the famous 31ST Infantry Regiment and the name of the officer who owned this uniform is  written inside the collar of the coat.  

The 31st Infantry Regiment was created on August 12, 1916 at Ft. William McKinley, Philippine Islands, as a Regular Army regiment.  To that date, the only regular army unit to have been created outside the borders of the United States, the 31ST was permanently garrisoned at Ft. McKinley.  Except for the regiment’s participation in the American Expeditionary Force – Siberia (AEF-S) from 1918 to 1920, and some temporary duty assignments in Japan in 1923 to assist with the recovery from a major earthquake, and in Shanghai, China in 1932 to assist in the protection of the International Community during civil unrest, the 31ST would not serve within the continental US until after World War Two.  

The 31ST earned its soubriquet, “The Polar Bears” during its participation in the historical AEF-S, one of two international allied interventions in post-Revolution Russia.  During their service in Siberia, the 31ST, along with the 27TH Infantry Regiment wrote a remarkable and quite unique chapter in the history of the United States Army.  This single assignment in Siberia guaranteed these two regiments a degree of fame that survives today among collectors of World War One memorabilia.   

This uniform coat and trousers were originally collected from the same estate in Connecticut and from all appearances have always been together.  As noted above, the officer “KELLEY” wrote his name on the inside back of the collar.  In addition to the 31ST Regiment’s patch on the left shoulder, the epaulets bear the silver colored false embroidery captain’s bars.  The display of insignia is completed with the bronze “U.S.” and Infantry crossed rifles insignias on both sides of the collar.  The insignia all appear original to the coat with no additional pin holes where the insignia has been removed, added, or replaced. 

Using the name on the collar, the regiment and the rank of captain, some research has been done to complete the identification of the officer.  The group photographs shown below were taken on August 16, 1922 were found in the 31ST’s regimental archives.  The photographs and the names of the officers shown in the photos were provided to the 31ST’s regimental historians by Albert Pierson who was a second lieutenant when he reported to the 31ST in 1922.  Pierson supplied the names of the officers pictured, recalling them from memory, and he wrote them on the back of the photo.  Note that the “Kelly” listed in the photograph is spelled differently from the “Kelley” written on the coat collar.  As the elderly Pierson was providing the names from memory, it is possible and quite likely he could have misspelled one or more of the names, including Kelley's. 

Unfortunately, Pierson provided only the last name and rank of the officers in the photographs.  However, considering his age and junior rank at the time, any of the men shown would have outranked him, so it stands to reason that as in the case of our man Kelley, young Lt. Pierson would only have known Kelley’s first name to be “Captain”, and the same would have applied to the other senior officers.   

Given the features of the uniform coat, I believe the Captain Kelley shown in the photograph is the same man who owned this uniform.  Unfortunately, the interwar-years personnel records of the 31ST were maintained at Ft. McKinley and were never transmitted to any central archive in the United States.  As a result, the only copy of the regiment’s records was destroyed during the Japanese attack on the Philippines in December of 1941 when a vessel carrying them was sunk.  Additional research through the U.S. Army’s Official Registers and other record sources of the day may reveal additional information that would lead to a more complete biography of Captain Kelley.  

Intended as an alternative to the woolen service uniform for wear in tropical climates, this khaki colored cotton coat shows minimal evidence of wear, and no fading, with all of the original buttons present and intact down the front, on the epaulets and pocket flaps.  All the seams are intact with no fraying or wear spots to the edges.  The edges of the collar, the cuffs, and along the bottom of the coat are intact with no wear – all areas where fraying normally occurs on these coats.  The seam bias tape is still present inside the sleeves at the cuffs, and again shows no evidence of wear.  There are a couple of very small soil marks on the inside of the coat at the lower right front pocket where something in the pocket stained the material.  On the reverse of the coat there are two pin point sized stains, and on the left sleeve there are some blue colored marks.  All of these are quite small and hardly noticeable, but mentioned here to provide a complete description.  

The trousers, or perhaps more correctly called “breeches” due to the nature of the cut for wear inside high riding boots and the reinforced seat for sitting a saddle, are literally “like new” and show no evidence of having been worn – perhaps a purchase made right at the end of the service life of this uniform before the captain changed over to the new pattern in the early 1930’s.  The officer’s name “KELLEY” is written in ink on the inside front surface of the waistband.  The laces in the lower legs are present and intact, all of the buttons are present and intact and the belt is present in similar condition. 

This is an outstanding Pattern 1911 Service Uniform grouping owned by a captain in the famous 31ST Infantry Regiment which has survived the years in excellent condition.  Due to the relatively limited numbers of men who served in the regiment, their isolated overseas assignments, and the destructive nature of the tropical climates, this is a rare specimen.  Given the historic record of the 31ST, and the identification to the officer, this particularly nice specimen would make a prime center piece for a World War One display.  (0607) $1250

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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