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1st Sgt. Walter F. Dundon: Company 'M', 339th Infantry


(1st Sgt. Walter F. Dundon - U. S. Army Signal Corps)


Walter Dundon was born November 22, 1890 in Elk Rapids, IL. Not long after this, his parents, Tom and Margaret moved to Chicago. There, Tom had secured a good paying job at an iron works. Meanwhile, Margaret’s responsibilities as a housewife increased over the next few years as their family grew; Tom Jr., Katherine, Lauretta, and Raymond soon joined Walter in their parents’ their rental home.[1] Life went well for the Dundon family until suddenly, Tom Dundon died, leaving Margaret to fend for herself, and support five children. She moved her family to Elberta, MI, a small lakeside town serving as the link between the Ann Arbor Railroad and several ferry companies that transported goods and people across Lake Michigan. Margaret opened a business that became well known, and provided enough income to support her family. A local historian noted, “[Walter Dundon’s] mother ran a bakery and restaurant across the street from the water front … The backroom of Dundon’s Bakery was a place [where] the river drivers would sleep after driving logs down the river.” [2] Her son Walter, showing a good sense for numbers, worked as a bookkeeper. Walter, in 1911, joined the army and was sent to Alaska, where he took part in the military’s duties of providing security, law enforcement, and infrastructure construction for that remote and wild region. He served his three-year enlistment, then mustered out in 1914. Dundon returned to Elberta and got a job working as a brakeman for the Ann Arbor Railroad. He stayed with the railroad for a short time before moving to Detroit and taking on a job at an auto body factory.[3] The United States entered the Great War in 1917 and not long afterward draft notices went out to America’s young men. Walter Dundon completed his draft registration on June 7, 1917, the form noting; he stood 5-foot-10½ inches tall, and had blue eyes and light brown hair. Once at Camp Custer, Dundon who already had three years of previous military service was immediately promoted.[4] Sergeant Dundon was then tasked with drilling the new recruits arriving at Camp Custer. However, whenever he had time off the young NCO went into nearby Battle Creek and there he met 18-year-old Cecile Hager, the daughter of a local carpenter. Their relationship blossomed and they married. Sadly though, when Walter Dundon left for Europe he never again saw his wife, as she died suddenly, in May 1919. Cecile’s obituary would record; “[They] married in June [1918] … and three weeks later her husband left for overseas duty.”[5] Dundon did not know Cecile had died until he returned home from Russia. In fact, he would list her as his emergency contact in June 1919 as he filled out his ship-transport forms, not knowing she was dead. In September 1918, once his company reached Russia, Dundon, being the company’s first sergeant, recorded many of the unit’s men were out because of sickness. The Spanish Flu, and the effects of inclement weather had so reduced the company that Dundon’s final tally for the company’s morning report was 104 able-bodied riflemen, out of what should have been around 250.[6]

Dundon, as Company ‘M’s senior NCO, went about the business of running Cpt. Joel Moore’s combat unit. Walter Dundon’s immediate responsibilities revolved around keeping his troops healthy and fed. Food though was becoming an issue. It was not a problem of insufficient amounts, the dispute was quality; the men did not like what they were receiving. One of Dundon’s riflemen noted, “There was a lot of mutton and there was also tin beef … The trouble was that there was a lot of M & V. They called it Meat and vegetables, it was prepared in England.”[7] Dundon, along with being unhappy with these British rations, also was frustrated by their battalion commander, Maj. Charles Young, who refused to confront the British supply officers about this problem, and because the Americans were being forced to drink British tea, rather than coffee.

Though this issue was tough to deal with, 1st Sgt. Dundon realized the rations problem was just a sideshow to the real complication; the British were running everything. Even though Dundon was unhappy with Maj. Young’s performance, what made everything worse was the fact the American officers were always outranked by the British. Dundon watched his captain (Joel Moore) being forced to submit to Maj. Young’s orders, knowing the actual directives had come from British mouths.

This situation did not change for most of their time in Russia, however when Maj. J. Books Nichols took over command of the Second Battalion, Nichols did much to protect his companies from British interference. First Sergeant Walter Dundon, during those months on the Railroad Front, carried out his responsibilities as first sergeant; seeing to the company’s allocations, and maintaining the company’s books. On December 1, 1918, he recorded, “Co. on front line. One platoon at Verst 446. 1½ platoons plus two L.G. gun teams on outpost duty. Remainder of Co. on fatigue, building block houses, wire entanglements, etc. Sgt. [Norman] Zapfe patrolled right flank, Sgt. [William] Hudson left flank.”[8]

Company ‘M’ survived its travails on the Railroad Front, until on May 1, 1919, their situation changed, when Cpt. Joel Moore was given orders to stand down, to be replaced by White Russian solders. Walter Dundon duly recorded this feat, noting “Part of the 2nd platoon outposted at 455 relieved by the Russians.”[9] From there, the company went to Archangel, and then on to Camp Economie, before heading to France. Then, in July 1919, the doughboys returned to the United States and 1st Sgt. Walter Dundon was discharged.

Walter returned to Detroit and returned to his job as a top builder in an auto manufacturing company. Then, in 1921, he married a woman named Mary (Marie) and they moved to South Bend, IN. The couple returned to Detroit when Walter got a job as a division manager for a real estate company.[10] Following this, Dundon became active in the Polar Bear Association, an organization that remembered and honored the soldiers who had been sent to Russia, and in 1928, he was elected as its President..

Walter Dundon, now thirty-nine-years-old, along with four other veterans of North Russia, gathered funding, permissions, and travel documents to enter the Soviet Russia to retrieve their missing comrades. This was to be a monumental task, as described by Dundon, “I was advised that these funds could not be used until diplomatic relations were established with Russia.” He continued, “No diplomatic relations existed between the United States and Russia at that time. [I] was able to get the necessary visas through the unofficial Russian ambassador to Washington whose life had been saved by a member of the American forces in Siberia during the fighting there in 1918-19.”[11]

Though the legal and financial technicalities were difficult, the actual finding of the buried soldiers was going to be even more challenging. A Michigan newspaper recorded, “Most of the Polar Bears sleep singly or in small groups – one here, a pair in the next town and perhaps four or five in the edge of the forest five miles away.”[12] Dundon noted, “I had contacted a number of former members of the American North Russian Expedition seeking information as to burial locations. Many responded with maps and rough drawings of the various locations. The information differed widely because of the trying conditions under which the burials were made and the time that had elapsed.”[13]

The commission reached Russia in late summer 1929 and began their search for American graves, a task proving to be quite difficult. Walter Dundon wrote, “We were required to get permission for each trip from the base and to register in and out of towns. Food was scarce, especially away from our base, and we tried to pack all [our] food with us.” [14] He also recorded, “The most difficult part … was lack of transportation, food, and sanitation. {And] accommodations away from the base were poor.”[15]Finally though, the commission began to get the job done. On August 17, 1929, Walter Dundon wrote, “Today we dug for the first American. Finally found a button.”[16] In all, the commission’s efforts resulted in the securing of 84 American bodies and returning them home.

Walter Dundon returned to Detroit and eventually became an accountant for the city. He and Mary lived in Detroit until 1964, when the retired couple moved to Frankfort, MI. They lived there until January 3, 1970, when Walter F. Dundon passed away. He is buried in the Crystal Lake Township Cemetery in North Franklin, MI.

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[1] U.S. Census, 1900. [2] Bolander, Andy, “A Polar Bear’s Return to Russia.” www.recordpatriot.com. [3] Bolander, Andy, “A Polar Bear’s Return to Russia.” www.recordpatriot.com. Dundon, Walter F. WWI Draft Registration Card, 5 Jun 1917. [4] Dundon, Walter F. WWI Draft Registration Card, 5 Jun 1917. [5] “Mrs. Cecile Hager Dundon,” The Battle Creek Enquirer, 9 May 1919. [6] Dundon, Walter, in Moore, Joel, ‘M’ Company, 1920. [7] Salchow, Hugo. Oral History. Univ. of MI, Bentley Library. [8] Dundon, Walter, in Moore, Joel, “M Company,” 1920. [9] Dundon, Walter, in Moore, Joel, “M Company,” 1920. [10] Detroit City Directory, 1930. [11] Dundon, Walter, F., “A Personal Experience Unique in the History of the U.S.A. Wars.” Walter F. Dundon Papers. Polar Bear Digital Materials, Univ. of MI, Bentley Library. [12] “Five Michigan Veterans Hunt Bodies of Buddies,” The Tuscaloosa News, 10 Sep 1929. [13] Dundon, Walter, F., “A Personal Experience Unique in the History of the U.S.A. Wars.” [14] Dundon, Walter, F., “A Personal Experience Unique in the History of the U.S.A. Wars.” [15] Dundon, Walter, F., “A Personal Experience Unique in the History of the U.S.A. Wars.” [16] Zielen, Laura, “Michigan’s Polar Bears,” Collections, Fall 2014.

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