Kosciuszko Bridge To See Big Changes
Brooklyn, N.Y. … With a major rehabilitation of the heavily traveled Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s Kosciuszko Bridge already planned, the Downstate New York Division of the Polish American Congress announced it is in the process of forming a special commemorative committee to celebrate the bridge’s 75th anniversary in 2014.
The bridge was officially opened on August 23, 1939 just nine days before Germany invaded Poland and began World War II.
Known originally as the Meeker Avenue Bridge, the City of New York agreed the following year to officially name the bridge after General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the military engineer from Poland who joined the Continental Army of General George Washington and contributed so significantly to America’s victory in its War of Independence.
The Kosciuszko dedication ceremonies were conducted on September 23, 1940 when WWII was already a year old. Poland was under brutal German and Soviet occupation and the Nazis had already began their murders in Auschwitz.
New York’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia drew the cheers of his mostly Polish American audience when he paid tribute to Poland and its government-in-exile. “The free government of Poland lives and will continue to live,” he declared. Describing Thaddeus Kosciuszko as “a champion of liberty,” the Mayor said he and his listeners were there “to do something more than simply name a bridge. We are met here today to pay tribute to a great personage of history and the ideals that he represented. He was not only a great soldier, he was a great statesman and a great soul. He loved liberty not only for his own country but for the entire world.”
Another tribute came from Attorney General John J. Bennett, Jr. who stated that the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence were exemplary of the spirit of Poland and America. “When we remember that Poland produced Kosciuszko and other heroes like the great Casimir Pulaski, I am confident that Poland will live again. Any land which breeds such lovers of freedom can never be kept enslaved,” the Attorney General said. “The Polish people may be captive, but the flaming spirit of Polish liberty will never be destroyed.”
When the Kosciuszko bridge had reached its 50th anniversary in 1990, the Polish American Congress organized and conducted a commemorative ceremony to mark the milestone. The Borough President of Brooklyn, Howard Golden, participated in the ceremony. Representatives from the African American community also joined in the celebration.
Kosciuszko’s engineering skills played a major role in America’s defeat of the British in the battle of Saratoga in upstate New York. The Saratoga victory was considered to be “the turning point” of the American Revolution. His fortification of West Point blocked the British from consolidating their forces in the North and relieved the pressure on the Americans.
“Kosciuszko is a genuine American hero. He’s a New York State hero,” said Chet Szarejko, vice president of the Downstate New York Congress. “There’s good reason the bridge was named after him.”
In photo on right: LEROY COMRIE, Deputy Majority Leader of the City Council of New York (center), assured the Polish American Congress of his support for next year’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Kosciuszko Bridge. Frank Milewski, president of the Downstate N.Y. Division of the Congress (left) and Vice President Chet Szarejko (right) were advised by Mr. Comrie that the name of Thaddeus Kosciuszko should be permanent, even if the bridge is replaced. (Photo by PAC Downstate N.Y.)
Despite his brilliant military contribution in the American Revolution, Kosciuszko is recognized as a great humanitarian who was shocked that slavery was legal when he came to America. Before he left the United States in 1798, he named Thomas Jefferson the executor of his last will and testament. The will directed Jefferson to use the estate assets to purchase slaves and set them free.
The will was written sixty-five years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Kosciuszko is frequently referred to as “America’s First Emancipator,” as a result.
Deputy Majority Leader of New York’s City Council, Leroy Comrie, assured the Downstate Polish American Congress of his support for next year’s 75th Anniversary celebration of the bridge. Mr. Szarejko impressed on him the importance the Polish American community places on retaining the bridge’s Kosciuszko name even if the planned reconstruction might involve a replacement rather than repair.
PAC – Downstate New York Division