The Washtenaw Polar Bears
Anderson recalled how Nordman, working in the mortuary in the town of Shenkurst, displayed a determination to not let gruesome tasks wreck his evenings: "when a Russian was expected to momentarily give up the ghost, [Nordman] would pace impatiently in the hallway outside the door with a plugging stick, profanely importuning the patient to 'hurry it up and quit stalling.'" The "undertaker" crew rarely escaped the scenes of death and dying. Once the flu arrived, Anderson wrote, "Russians seemed to have no resistance whatsoever." The two military hospitals were filled, as was the Russian civilian hospital. The hut behind their barracks was "full of corpses awaiting coffins, of which there was a shortage."
Some relief came when the flu epidemic had run its course, but by then winter and the Bolsheviks interfered with relaxation. The Polar Bear soldiers were dispersed on two narrow fronts in the British generals' idea of strategic positions. Allied strategists had vague intentions of using the North Russian forces to link up with the Czech Legion and other anti-Bolshevik contingents fighting in Siberia, but, for reasons historians toil to analyze, instead chose to withdraw, beginning the process in the spring as the rivers thawed. By late June the Americans had docked in New York. Out of 4,925 members of the force, 225 men lost their lives. Of that number, sixty-four died of disease, and about thirty were missing in action.