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Meeting the man behind ‘Pulaski Day’

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – This article is reprinted from the pages of the Scott Air Force Base Command Post newspaper in which it ran a few times, most recently in 2007. I’ve been told that copies of this piece have been given to children at Scott Elementary School, so I thought I’d share it with those of you who may be parents, in case you get quizzed at home. 

In case anyone was wondering why Illinois school children have today (the first Monday in March) off, it’s to honor an American hero who never set foot in the state, Gen. Casimir Pulaski.

 If you have no idea who he was, don't feel bad. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a very German and Polish family. I didn't know that Pulaski was anything more than one of the longest streets in my hometown, the one with a music store where I bought my first set of drums.

If anyone should know who Pulaski was, it should be me. My mother's family was so Polish that I was 16 before I realized not all women wore babushkas (the traditional scarves wrapped around the head and tied under the chin) and not everyone ate stuffed cabbage on Sunday, or any day.

In my quest for knowledge, I decided to ask my fellow workers in United States Transportation Command and around the base “Who is Casimir Pulaski?" No one I asked had an inkling of who he was, with the exception of a few public affairs workers and Base Library staffers who always know something about everything.

After talking to these professional know-it-alls, I found that Casimir Pulaski was born March 4, 1747, in Winiary, Poland, 40 miles from Warsaw.  He became involved in military actions on his 21st birthday when he took command of a group of Ukrainian partisans during an insurrection know as the "Confederation of Bar."       

The librarians also told me he spent the next three and a half years in military campaigns against Russian forces where he proved his valor and military talent in numerous actions and skirmishes.

According to "Memorials to Casimir Pulaski" by the Chicago Public Library, subsequent unfortunate events caused Pulaski to leave his native land. He attempted to seek refuge in Turkey, but was refused aid by the Sultan. So by 1775, he moved to Paris.

There, he met Benjamin Franklin, who was then the American Commissioner, and became interested in the American struggle for independence. He traveled to America in 1777 and immediately joined Gen. George Washington's staff in Philadelphia.

Because of his success in the Battle of Brandywine, he was commissioned as a brigadier general by Congress and assigned to command the cavalry.

On Pulaski's behalf, Washington sent a letter to Congress that read, "This gentleman has been, like us, engaged in defending the liberty and independence of his country and has sacrificed his fortune to his zeal for these objects.  He derives from hence a title to our respect that ought to operate in his favor as far as the good of the service will permit."

Pulaski went on to more distinguished service during the siege of Savannah. In that bloody assault of October 8, 1779, he commanded the entire French and American cavalries. He was badly wounded during the battle and died several days later.

Today, there are many streets, towns, parks and monuments around the country dedicated to Pulaski. His birthday is celebrated in Illinois because more than 10 percent of the Unites States' Polish population lives in the state he never knew would exist.

So, to a man who helped secure the freedoms we enjoy today, and a day off for local school children, I say Dziękuję.


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