W. Thomas Smith, Jr

We Americans far too-often take our staunchest allies for granted, forgetting that we are not the only ones who – over the past 200-plus years of our relatively short existence – have been the standard bearers of freedom and democracy throughout the world.

Multiple nations and members of those nations’ worldwide diasporas have had a hand in it. And no nation on earth has struggled, suffered, and sacrificed more (yet survived) for the cause of freedom worldwide – nor been a better friend to America – than Poland.

Which is why this morning’s tragic plane crash in Russia – killing Polish Pres. Lech Kaczynski, First Lady Maria Kaczynski, and at least 95 others (including Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland's exiled president during the decades of Communism, and many top Polish military and civilian officials) – grieves us all as Americans.

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After all, Poland has been with us from the beginning, literally in the saddle, fighting and dying with us from Savannah to Afghanistan.

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to drive across the North American continent today and not see a monument, street, or some sort of namesake commemoration for Polish nobleman Casimir Pulaski, a general-officer in George Washington’s army during the American Revolution. Pulaski was killed leading a charge against British forces in the Battle of Savannah. He is today widely considered to be “the father of American cavalry.”

Then we have Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, another hero of our revolution, said to be “the best engineer” in Washington’s army. Indeed, he designed plans for West Point.

And though often taking a back seat to the great battles of Europe and the Pacific during World War II, some of the most amazingly heroic resistance battles in all of history were waged by Polish fighters against Nazi occupation, as Poles say, “For our freedom and yours!”

Sadly, one of the greatest battles – the heroic albeit disastrous Warsaw Uprising in 1944 (not to be confused with the also-heroic Warsaw Ghetto uprising more than a year earlier) – barely gets an honorable mention in William L. Shirer’s epic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

So goes Poland throughout history – a nation of stoic fighters, giants on the battlefield, brave beyond any man’s ability to adequately describe – often swallowed up by far larger more militaristically-ambitious nations, temporarily silenced, often ignored by historians, but never yielding its heart which always-and-again beats back to life.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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