WWI Veterans service in Siberia


By Russ Caton
Submitted by 
Eugene Maxey

Editor’s note: Local veteran and resident Eugene Maxey (My Story, Jan. 7th, 2016) was the son of WWI Veteran Timothy Maxey, a local resident. Forrest Maxey is the grandson of Timothy Maxey. Russ Caton was a neighbor of Timothy Maxey and graduated from LHS circa 1975. Caton researched and wrote the following article.

  Forrest Maxey introduction: “This is my grandpa. I spent many nights with him there in the house talked about. He suffered from shell shock from his time in Russia. The things he told me were horrific. I miss him. He is a hero who was captured and escaped with Mongolians he was in the dungeon with. Thanks to Russ Caton for the history he wrote about in the comments.”
  
  “On this Veterans Day 2018, a hundred years since the end of “The War to End all Wars”, I’m reminded of the quiet old gentleman who lived down the street from my home. As a kid, I used to mow his lawn in the summers, never having much interaction with him other than some polite conversation as he paid me when I finished. It was years later doing some research on “The Great War” that I stumbled onto a photo of him in a local military archive: Timothy Maxey, Company H, 31st Infantry, American Expeditionary Force – Siberia. He entered service in 1918 at Jefferson Barracks, trained at Camp Fremont in Calif.; he then served in the AEF-Siberia until 1920,” says Caton.
  The American Expeditionary Force, Siberia, was a formation of the United States Army involved in the Russian Civil War in Vladivostok, Russia, during the end of World War I after the October Revolution, from 1918 to 1920. The force was part of the larger Allied North Russia Intervention.
  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s claimed objectives for sending troops to Siberia were as much diplomatic as they were military. One major reason was to rescue the 40,000 men of the Czechoslovak Legion, who were being held up by Bolshevik forces as they attempted to make their way along the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Vladivostok, and it was hoped, eventually to the Western Front. Another major reason was to protect the large quantities of military supplies and railroad rolling stock that the United States had sent to the Russian Far East in support of the prior Russian government’s war efforts on the Eastern Front.
  Equally stressed by Wilson was the need to “steady any efforts at self-government or self-defense in which the Russians themselves may be willing to accept assistance.” At the time, Bolshevik forces controlled only small pockets in Siberia and President Wilson wanted to make sure that neither Cossack marauders nor the Japanese military (who were WWI Allies) would take advantage of the unstable political environment along the strategic railroad line and in the resource-rich Siberian regions that straddled it.
  For two years, the 31st and its sister, the 27th Infantry Regiment, fought off bands of Red revolutionaries and White counter-revolutionaries that were plundering the Siberian countryside and trying to gain control of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. They also dissuaded their 40,000 Japanese troops from taking control of Russian territory. The regiment suffered its first battle casualties on 29th of August 1918, in action near Ugolnaya. During the Siberian deployment, 30 soldiers of the 31st Infantry were killed and some 60 troops were wounded in action. In addition, a large number of troops lost limbs due to frostbite. During this deployment, the regiment recommended one Medal of Honor and 15 Distinguished Service Crosses. For its service in Siberia, the 31st Infantry became known as “the Polar Bear regiment”, adopting a silver polar bear as its insignia.
  The experience in Siberia for the soldiers was miserable. Problems with fuel, ammunition, supplies and food were widespread. Horses accustomed to temperate climates were unable to function in sub-zero Russia. Water-cooled machine guns froze and became useless. The last American soldiers left Siberia on April 1st, 1920. During their 19 months in Siberia, 189 soldiers of the force died from all causes.
  “This is all just a footnote in history. One we never learned about in all of those history classes in school. I don’t know if Mr. Maxey would have talked about what he experienced. I would have liked to ask, but my experience has been that those who’ve seen the elephant don’t always want to say much about it,” adds Caton.
  Eugene Maxey remembers, “The most my dad ever told me about his experiences was that a Japanese soldier saved his life.”

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