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Sgt. Fred W. Wolfe: Company 'K', 339th Infantry

Sgt. Fred W. Wolfe (U.S. Signal Corps)

Fred William Wolfe was born December 24, 1892, near Northport, MI. His parents, Burnside ‘Birney’ and Maude (Smith) Wolfe had settled in the area, when Birney secured a job as a teacher. The couple eventually had three children; Roy, Fred, and Clair. The family moved to Leelanau, MI, when Birney got a job teaching in that community. Maude kept house and raised her three children. Sadly, Maude grew ill during the spring of 1894 and passed away in November of that year.[1] Birney was not able to take care of his children, so he took them to Maude’s parents, George (a minister), and his wife, Seddie. The couple took on the duty of raising the three Wolfe children, but unfortunately, George died in 1897, leaving all the responsibilities to Seddie.

Fred completed three years of high school, and in 1909, enlisted into the Army. He was mustered into Company ‘D’, 1st U. S. Infantry and sent to Camp Duffield, MI. Fred did well as a soldier, and when his six-year enlistment ended in 1915, he had earned the rank of corporal. Fred moved to Detroit and got a job in Detroit as a painter in 1916.[2] He married a young woman named Phylis in 1917, and they lived on Theodore Street until he was drafted in 1918. Fred’s Draft Registration card listed him as tall, of medium build, and with brown eyes and hair.[3] He was sent to Camp Custer, MI and because of his previous military experience was promoted to sergeant, and assigned to Company ‘K’, 339th Infantry.

Sergeant Wolfe’s regiment was sent to England, and from there, to northern Russia, but sadly, lost five men to the Spanish Flu. Once in Russia, Wolfe’s company joined Second Battalion and took part in the drive to Obozerskaya. When that town had been secured, Company ‘K’ was ordered fifty miles southeast of Obozerskaya, to the area of near Kodish, where it was tasked with controling an important bridge on the Yemtsa River. Sergeant Wolfe’s company battled the Bolsheviks in a series of fights in late September 1918 (5 killed), in mid-October 1918 (1 killed), early November 1918 (1 killed), and in late December 1918 (3 killed).[4] During this time the Yanks found that the equipment and uniforms they used were of poor quality, and at times they had to scramble for better materials. They noted, “the Canadians taught our boys their first lesson in looting the persons of the dead … and even took their boots … as they were pretty [good].”[5] Sergeant Wolfe often led his platoon, and when several of the company’s senior NCO’s were killed he was promoted to serve as the unit’s First Sergeant.[6] Eventually the company was sent to Archangel, and from there, to Camp Economie, and by the time the 339th was ready to leave Russia, Wolfe had been awarded the British Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Sergeant Wolfe’s regiment was sent to Camp Custer in July 1919 and its soldiers discharged. Unfortunately, his married had ended, and the 1920 Census shows him working as a sign painter, and boarding at a rooming house.[7] Fred Wolfe married Margaret Kennedy in 1922 and they had a daughter, Madaline. Fred did well as a painter, and by 1930 the couple was able to purchase a home on Keating Street. He became active in Polar Bear reunions, and in 1934 was elected to the position of Post Commander of Polar Bear Post #436. Fred continued working as a sign painter and by 1940 was working for a Detroit advertising company and making $25.00 a month.[8] He remained a sign painter until his unfortunate death, November 19, 1951, when a drunk driver killed him, while he was trying to cross a Detroit city street.[9] Fred Wolfe is buried in the White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in York, MI.


[1] “Mrs. Maude May Wolfe,” Grand Rapids Press, 28 Nov 1894. [2] Detroit City Directory, 1916. [3] Wolfe, Fred W., Draft Registration Card, 5 Jun 1917. [4] Moore, Joel, et al., The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki, 1920. [5] Moore, Joel, et al., The History of the American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki, 1920. [6] “14 Wolverines Decorated,” Detroit Free Press, April 1, 1919. [7] 1920 U.S. Census. [8] 1940 U.S. Census. [9] “Detroit’s Own,” Polar Bear Memorial Association, 2020

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