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May 24, 2024

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The Battle Over Pulaski’s Birthday

The Poles in America Foundation had planned to assemble at the U.S. Capitol to pay Polonia’s annual tribute to Casimir Pulaski on the occasion of the 268th anniversary of the revolutionary general’s birth, March 6, 1745. Contingents were staged to descend on the nation’s capitol from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Florida. As with any plan, what cannot be controlled can rule the day and just as well lead to defeat as lead to victory. It turned into a battle of trying to predict the opponent’s moves and outmaneuvering the other side.

Such was the case with the annual commemoration which was due to the observed March 6, 2013. Last-minute weather forecasts countermanded the best plans that had been made for the advancing troops. Seasoned, expert weather forecasters called for a massive storm to drop 5 to 7 inches of heavy, wet snow on the city of Washington, DC. They were calling for 10 to 15 inches of accumulation in the western suburbs. This was directly in the path of the approaching celebrants who were coming from the north advancing along the I-95 corridor.

The ceremony honoring General Pulaski’s true birth-day was originally instituted to call attention to the fact that he was born in Warsaw and baptized on March 6, 1745 under circumstances which strongly indicate that the day of his baptism also fell on the date of his birth. On that day Fr. Christopher Faltz was called to hurry from the Church of the Holy Cross to the Pulaski’s Warsaw residence on what is now the corner of Warecka and Nowy Swiat Streets. There he administered the sacrament because the parents feared the newly born Pulaski son might not live. Young Casimir, however, gained in strength and the baptismal ceremonies were completed on March 14th with several pairs of godparents that included Mazowsze Voivode Stanislaw Poniatowski, father of Stanislaw August, the last Polish king. All these events were recorded in the church’s official book of baptisms. The records survived the fighting and destruction of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. They were initially noticed by Wladyslaw Rudzinski as he researched the genealogy of his own family and were later examined by Edward Pinkowski, founder of the Poles in America Foundation.IMG_0379forweb

In 1989 the Polish Academy of Science (PAN) issued a correction to its entry on Pulaski in the “Polski Slownik Biograficzny” showing the proper date, and place. While some of the incorrect information is still being repeated, we are fortunate that some new reference works, like the recently published “Polish American Encyclopedia” edited by Dr. James Pula, have the actual and true date.

Now, back to the account of the battle to commemorate the event this year in Washington. The generals in charge of opening the field of commemoration, that is, the federal buildings and monuments in the District of Columbia, decided at 5 AM to close for the day because of the predicted weather, thereby canceling the celebration. The advancing troops included representatives of the Polish American Congress, the Pulaski Cadets, the Jan Karski institute, the Polish American Arts Association, the American Council of Polish Culture and the Polish Embassy as well as dozens of interested individuals representing Polonia at large. The troops that were traversing a great distance were prepared to implement “Plan B,” which was traveling to Washington by train instead of the highway so they would not be stranded on the return trip. Once word was received that the Capitol building was closed the advancing troops were told to hold their bivouac location and not commence the advance on Washington.

The alternative was discussed to reschedule the function for the following day. However, there were no assurances that the government buildings would be open on Thursday, March 7th either, especially if the accumulation of snow was to grow only larger as the afternoon of March 6th progressed as forecast. Because of the peril of stranding the troops en route amongst snowdrifts to no avail, the generals decided they had to call off the advance for this year. This was the second year out of the past three years that the annual commemoration had been waylaid by the challenge of doing battle with the government adversaries. Although this year it was due to the buildings’ closing and congressional staff furloughed for the day, two years ago it was a result of Congress going to the brink before deciding to adopt a continuing resolution to fund the government, which was decided over the weekend and only hours before the program. In both cases the battle against uncontrollable forces was effectively lost and the commemoration had to be cancelled out of respect for the long-distance travelers.

As it turned out, the Capitol Visitor Center remained open throughout the snowstorm and the Speaker of the House was making statements on television that he would keep the People’s building open because the president had decided to close the White House to tours during the government sequestration. Yet the federal office buildings were still closed and the Congressional staff absent so that there was no access for the tribute to Pulaski. The rules of the U.S. Senate would not allow the wreath to be set at the bust of Pulaski, which is one of three in the Revolutionary War collection in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol, without a member of the sponsor’s staff present (the Hon. Dan Lipinski, D-IL). Consequently, when congressional staff returned to work on Thursday, March 7, 2013, two representatives of the commemorative group, on behalf of all Polonia, placed the wreath at the place of honor in the U.S. Senate building. They were accompanied by Matthew McGowan of the Senate Rules Committee, a member of the Senate curator’s office, and Congressman Lipinski’s staff member.

Although it wasn’t the extensive commemoration that would have filled the parade ground with visitors from near and far, at least it was a continuation of our annual tribute to Pulaski based on his verified, birthday. This led Jack Pinkowski, president of the Poles in America Foundation, to say after this year’s function “it’s seems that we have an ongoing battle to work within the constraints that the commemoration in Washington presents.  Perhaps next year, and from here on, we need to consider the annual commemoration at Pulaski’s gravesite in Savannah instead of the statute in the U.S. Capitol. At least in Savannah we will be surrounded by flowering magnolias with very low probability for snow and no possibility of closing the outdoor public park!” The bones believed to be Pulaski were reinterred under the Pulaski Monument in Savannah, Georgia during a ceremony in 2005. The identity of the remains is based upon scientific evaluation when scientists and researchers had access to them during the reconstruction of the monument. More about the story may be found that

 by Jack Pinkowski with Peter Obst

 In top photo: Jack Pinkowski and his wife Monica at the bust of Pulaski within the US Capitol.