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1st Lt. Clarence Primm: Co. 'M', 339th Infantry

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

(1st Lt. Clarence 'CJ' Primm - Courtesy of Carol Primm and Peter Stuntz)

Clarence F. Primm was born June 8, 1886, in South Dakota, the son of Sarah and John Primm, a physician practicing out on the frontier. However, while Primm was still quite young his family had moved to Door, IL and there, ‘CJ’, as everyone called him, received his initial schooling, before going on to Park College, IL, where he graduated with high honors.[1] The young scholar continued his education, earning a Master’s degree from the University of Kansas in political science, economics, and sociology—his Master’s thesis entitled, “Has Control of the Central Government Unduly Increased?”[2] CJ took on a job as a teacher and soon afterwards married Marguerite (Shogren) Christensen, an accomplished 21-year-old woman with a degree from the University of Chicago.[3] The couple moved to New York and in 1913 had a son, John. Then, they moved to Wisconsin, where Primm became the secretary for the First Manitowoc Chamber of Commerce. However, when America entered the Great War, he kissed Marguerite good-bye, passed the military exam to become an officer, and soon found himself training recruits and draftees at Camp Custer.

Lieutenant Primm was assigned to Company ‘I’, 339th Infantry, and took command of 3rd Platoon. His company ended up stationed at Obozerskaya, tasked with pushing the Bolos southward on the Railroad Front. Here, for most of the company’s time in Russia, he led his unit.

The following Clarence Primm quotes are taken from the journals he kept while in Russia, and from letters he wrote to his family:

Clarence Primm summed up his experiences in London and wrote, “We were treated most cordially by the English everywhere and enjoyed our stay there. London is the same as New York in its habit of separating one from his money.”

Lieutenant Primm remarked on the training his platoon did with French soldiers; “My men have been all this morning in the woods practicing with a French platoon, the men mingled, alternating one French and one American … I can only say that French and American soldiers are training together in a kind of warfare known in Africa but not in France, and the only thing that remains of the drill-field formation is the [term] bush fighting.”

Lt. Clarence Primm, when he was in Archangel, described life in that Russian city; “In the interior of one of the large dry goods stores - Shelves and counters were arranged in conventional fashion, but there were no display counters of goods to attract the eye and invite sales. These merchants had never heard of the American adage, “What you show, you sell.” Primm also added, “The after hours have been spent in hilarious frivolity … mostly sliding down a steep toboggan on pieces of very thin veneer wallboard for sleds … we go fast and far, and the effect is usually surprising.”

Primm’s relationship with the riflemen in his platoon was solid. He wrote, “In spite of wet feet and army rations and occasional alarms I am very happy tonight. And it is because of the very steady behavior of … my men.” He added, “We are not here to sacrifice lives needlessly.”

Once plans were made to remove the 339th Regiment from Russia, Lt. Primm was detached from Company ‘M’. On May 27, 1919 he wrote to his parents, “I have been handed a new job. I hope it may be temporary … I cannot foresee how long I shall be busy with it.” He soon found out he would remain in Russia and take charge of a detail tasked with gathering all the American dead for removal to the U.S. When he met the Graves Registration team he wrote, “There arrived at Archangel a belated detachment of the Graves Registration Service, from France. This consisted of one officer and seven men to be able to collect the bodies of all American dead in North Russia, prepare them for transportation in metallic caskets hermetically sealed, and have all this done in a few weeks.”

The Bolsheviks refused to allow Lt. Primm and the G.R.S. team search for the American dead. He wrote, “About my work there is little to be said. Owing to some conditions that have intervened, there may be much time lost in getting our dead out of North Russia.”

Finally though, Primm help collect nearly 100 American bodies, which were loaded onto the transport ship, Czar, and on September 30, 1919, left Archangel, eventually bound for America, with Primm being the last soldier from the 339th Infantry Regiment to leave Russia.

Lieutenant Primm did not leave the military, instead he retained his commision and entered into the Army Reserve Corps, which sent him to Fort Sheridan, IL, and then to Camp Custer, where he worked as a publicity officer. He earned a promotion to captain, and by 1929, was in charge of publishing that facility’s newspaper, The Soldier. [4] Primm remained in the Reserves for another ten years, receiving promotions to major, and then to lieutenant colonel. He retired in 1940. He and Marguerite moved to Mount Pleasant, MI, and he began teaching in the town's high school. CJ then accepting a position at the University of Kansas as a professor of sociology. Following this he transferred to Lawrence University as a professor of economics. Then, saying good-bye to higher education, Primm became a sales representative for the Society of Visual Education, a company that made filmstrips for American schools. Marguerite passed away in 1955, and on January 11, 1957, CJ died. He is buried in Manitowoc, WI. [5]


[1] Primm, Carol, and Stuntz, Pete (ed.), Polar Bear Tales, 2009. [2] Primm, Clarence J., “Has Control of the Central Government Unduly Increased?” 1949. [3] Alumni Directory: The University of Chicago, 1919, 65.

[4] Primm, Carol, and Stuntz, Pete (ed.), Polar Bear Tales, 2009.

[5] Primm, Carol, and Stuntz, Pete (ed.), Polar Bear Tales, 2009.

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