Wild animals should live their lives in—you guessed it—the wild, doing all of the things that they were made to do. Running, playing, hunting, and socializing with other animals is all part of why they were put on this planet.
But sometimes circumstances make it impossible for animals to live out their lives the way nature intended. Some animals are put in zoos, while others are rescued by human beings from tough circumstances.
When a group of Polish soldiers found an orphaned bear cub in Iran in the 1940s, they couldn’t just leave him to die. They made him one of their own, and what he wound up doing for them is unlike anything most have ever seen before…
Most people would prefer to not have bears anywhere near them. After all, they’re usually pretty dangerous! However, that wasn’t the case for the 22nd Artillery Supply for the Polish Corps.
That’s because the soldiers discovered an orphaned baby bear in Iran in 1942 and though they weren’t exactly mother material, they vowed to do their best for him. When the cub was small, they fed him condensed milk out of an empty vodka jar! As the bear grew, however, he developed more adult tastes.
Eventually, the bear, whom the soldiers named Voytek, became a beloved mascot of sorts for the soldiers in the 22nd. Truly, he was a crucial part of the team and a beloved friend. The stories of Voytek are legendary, and when you hear about them, you won’t believe them…
Voytek would join the soldiers around the fire, drinking and wrestling, and at night he’d sleep with them in their tents. Likewise, his natural impulses to engage in bear-like behavior made him a natural when it came to activities like wrestling. Of course, he won every single contest!
Although to outsiders, wrestling with Voytek might have seemed like a crazy idea, it was a great way for the bear to burn off his energy. It also turned out to be a great way for him to bond with the men of the 22nd Artillery Supply.
Voytek might have been a bear, but to the soldiers he worked with, he was just another member of the team. When their convoy was on the move, he sat in the passenger side of a Jeep, popping his head out to say hello to shocked passersby.
The Polish soldiers might have been delighted to have Voytek in their company, but their friends and commanding officers in the British Army didn’t feel the same. They wouldn’t allow pets of any sort in their camps. So the Poles had a real problem…
So they came up with a clever solution: instead of abandoning Voytek, the Polish simply made him an official member of the Corps! They gave him the rank of private (he’d eventually become a corporal) and that was that: the bear was official!
Once, during the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Poles were integral in helping the Allied Forces push back the enemy. It was a critical battle and everyone had their part to play—even Voytek. He carried boxes of ammunition, some weighing more than 100 pounds, down to the soldiers.
The soldiers could not get over the amazing assistance the bear had given them during the battle. They even issued a special medallion with a picture of Voytek carrying ammo to commemorate the moment the bear saved them all.
After the war, Voytek was able to live out his life in peace at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. He loved his new home, but his favorite thing was when visitors would speak to him in his “native” Polish.
His old comrades in arms did not forget everything Voytek did for them either. They all made frequent visits to the zoo, tossing down cigarettes and beers to the bear. Some of them would even jump inside and wrestle with him, for old time’s sake.
There were many brave heroes who fought valiantly during World War II, and Voytek the bear was one of them. Statues have been made commemorating his service. They have been erected in Poland, Scotland, England, and one even stands in Canada!
Those who fought alongside him would truly never forget this mighty bear. He wasn’t just a loyal friend; he was a comrade in arms. Who would’ve ever thought a bear would be a World War II hero?
The idea of people in the army enlisting a bear today might seem pretty ridiculous. After all, bears are wild creatures and they belong in the wild where they can roam free and live out life as it was intended for them to do.
But Voytek loved living and working with the Polish soldiers. He was indeed the rarest of bears. All told, Voytek lived until 1963, when he passed away peacefully in his sleep. He will never be forgotten!
Voytek was like no other bear to ever come before him. He led an unconventional life, but it was one that enriched the lives of everyone he met along the way.
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