My son Andrew and I were at a museum Saturday, which happened to be Polish Heritage Day. It got me to thinking about the contribution Polish people have made to the United States when I saw a picture of Ronald Reagan walking alone with Pope John Paul II in the Papal Gardens at the Vatican. Both men now are deceased but many historians credit them with the fall of Communism. We do know that the two men worked very closely together during the critical period in the mid-1980s when Communism was coming unraveled. That certainly was a great contribution to peace and stability.
The Polish contribution to America dates from the Revolutionary War. Poles identified with the American Revolution because Poles saw in Americans a mirror of themselves as they recently had fought a war to achieve independence.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko served in the Colonial Army against the British. He turned out to be a brilliant military strategist. He won the Battle of Saratoga, which was the turning point in the War. He also built West Point.
He was also a patriot in Poland. A plaque in West Point commemorating Kosciuszko says simply, "Hero of Two Worlds." He also was known as favoring the emancipation of Black slaves. When he died he left his wealth toward that cause. There is a Kosciuszko statue in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, bearing the inscription, "Liberty shrieked when Kosciuszko fell."
General Kazimierz Pulaski came to the aid of the North in the American Civil War. He gave his life in the Battle of Savannah.
There were several waves of Polish immigration. The largest wave occurred in the late 1800s when 1.5 million Poles left their native land for America. Many of these were farmers seeking to avoid religious persecution from the Germans. Polish Americans have made many contributions in America. Korczak Ziólkowski carved the Crazy Horse statue in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He also helped to carve the heads at Mount Rushmore.
When I went to high school our Principal, Msgr. Stanley Witkowiak, managed to get pianist Arturo Rubenstein to play a concert there. A Kosciuszko Club had been organized in 1871 with the motto, "A good Pole is a good American."
More recently prominent Poles have served in public life. Senator Edmund S. Muskie, of Maine, served in the Senate and after running as the Democratic candidate for Vice President, then for President, was Secretary of State in the Carter Administration. Another prominent Pole is Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Carter's National Security Advisor.
At first Poles were reliably Democratic but since Reagan they have trended Republican.