By Henrietta Nowakowski
Growing up in Detroit, among the many family activities, the most prominent revolved around these two organizations: the Polish Falcons and the Polish Army Veterans. This was because those were the compelling interests of my parents.
My father, Ignacy Zapytowski,
immigrated to the United States in 1907 and became a Falcon member soon after that. His involvement in their training courses and in their Szkola Podchorazych (Officers’ Training School) in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania would ultimately lead to his becoming one of the first volunteers to the Polish Army, destined to fight in France in the ‘Great World War’. When that conflict ended, he went on to newly re-established Poland to stop the Red Plague, the Bolsheviks, from marching into war-devastated Western Europe. For this he was awarded the Krzyz Walecznych (Cross of Valor), issued by the newly formed Polish Government.
My mother, who emigrated from Austrian Poland a few years later, became involved with the Falcons in Pittsburgh and always reminisced about how she was present when Ignacy Paderewski gave his famous speech at the Falcons Headquarters, encouraging the formation of this volunteer army. This was in 1917. Incidentally, my parents met in Pittsburgh, being active in the same Falcon Nest.
Discovering my father’s diary helped bring to life the minute details of this period in his life, the period that surrounded his enlistment, and his adventures in France. He left his diary, along with his binoculars and his army trunk with his family in Jaryczow Nowy near Lwow, where he stopped on his way home. We have to assume he did this to lighten his load on his trip back to the U.S. The diary, or journal, and trunk finally worked their way back to the U.S many, many years later, but that’s another story.
It’s impossible to separate “Czyn Zbrojny” ARMED EFFORT, from Sokolstwo – POLISH FALCONS The two are inextricably joined from the very beginning.
The idea to free Poland from control by its occupying neighbors, Austria, Russia, and Prussia was the motive behind the Falcon Movement when it was first formed in Lviv, in Austrian Poland. Its first president was elected in 1867. This same motivation carried over to the United States when SOKOL was first organized in 1887. So you can say that preparations to liberate the Fatherland began virtually at once.
It operated under the guise of physical fitness: W Zdrowym Ciele, Zdrowy Duch – a sound mind in a healthy body- but in addition, it was training young men to be battle-ready. CZOLEM OJCZYZNIE, SZPONEM WROGOWI. Hail to the Fatherland, with claws/talons to the enemy. It did this by conducting training camps using military close-order drills (tzw.Musztra), rifle drills, and other military-type maneuvers, in addition to physical fitness…
And so after years of preparation and anticipation, Ignacy Paderewski delivers his famous speech on the steps of the Falcons’ Headquarters at 97-99 So.18th Street in Pittsburgh on April 3, 1917.
Serendipity would have it that 3 unique events took place at the same time.
1) An extraordinary convention of the Falcons took place in Pittsburgh, April 1 to 4
2) Pres. Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a Declaration of War on April 2
3) The Falcon President, Dr. Teofil Starzynski invited Paderewski to come to Pittsburgh from Washington DC and deliver that now-famous speech on April 3 calling for ‘100,000 volunteers’ to join the Polish Army.
His plea for 100,000 volunteers was unrealistic, but 1/3 of that number, or 33,000 did sign up.
Many recruiting tools were used, many Posters (some today are considered works of art); rallies were held at every Falcon Sokolnia, at every Dom Polski, at every Polish venue. The Falcons even produced a silent movie to encourage young men to join.
The Falcons conducted an Officers’ Training School Szkola Podchorazych at Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. The school buildings were owned by the POLISH NATIONAL ALLIANCE where a technical school existed at the time. Naczelnicy (Falcon Physical Instructors) were the teaching staff at these training courses.
My father’s journal starts on July 27th, 1917, the date he starts classes at Cambridge Springs. This training course lasts almost 2 months.
After a brief furlough, he is ordered back to Cambridge Springs and then to Pittsburgh where the first recruiting station was organized. He is the 17th to enlist. From Pittsburgh, he traveled to Niagara-on-the-Lake and begins training recruits as a sergeant major.
Christmas of 1917 was spent in St. John’s, Quebec. I quote the diary “We went to church before noon and we really felt as if we were in Poland because we sang carols as in bygone days in our hometown churches. This feeling was short-lived as when we returned to our barracks, we again realized we were in a foreign country.”
The first group of recruits arrived in France on December 27, 1917. The second, my father’s group, left New York on December 29, and arrived in Bordeau on January 8, 1918. His ship, or szczupak as he calls it, was the SS Touraine, a French passenger ship, commandeered for the war effort.
I find his entry for January 6th, TRZECH KROLI – Three Kings Feast Day, while aboard ship, especially poignant. “…at 11 o’clock before noon…a priest arrives with a cross stuck in his sash, singing Christmas carols. Others join in and one’s heart is bursting with joy. It seems as if we’re in Poland with our loved ones. …..the chaplain explains our situation and the danger we are in and what we may be facing. …The priest preaches an unusually beautiful sermon, blesses us and we end the service singing ‘Boze Cos Polske’. We disperse with a great feeling of contentment…. When it got dark extraordinary tranquility prevailed. The windows were blocked out and smoking on deck was forbidden to minimize the risk of submarine attacks.”
To relieve the monotony of this 9-day journey, deck-side contests were held, mainly between the Polish soldiers and the American sailors. It’s with delight my father writes that the Polish boys won every competition. They consisted of 3-legged races, rolling potatoes along the deck, wheelbarrow races, tug-o-war, and such. The winners received prizes of a few francs each.
Upon arriving in Bordeau, the soldiers marched through town where the civilian population greeted them with great enthusiasm, shouting “Vive Pologne”. After all, the soldiers cane to help war-weary France
The French Army staff was impressed with the readiness of this volunteer army, their fitness, their knowledge of battle tactics, their training, and their enthusiasm. Those years of Falcon training really paid off.
Of special interest will be the journal entry for Sunday, January 13. He writes “I went to Laval to visit our boys from Nest 86 (The Falcons from Hamtramck) who were in the first group to arrive and were here 2 weeks earlier……. The boys greeted me very warmly. I gave each of them $2 from Nest 86. There were 8 of them.
You may have heard of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 and the toll it took worldwide. I learned from this journal that what my father called a cold, must have been the flu as he spent 8 days in the hospital in Coutances.
If you’re ever in Niagara–on–the Lake, Ontario, be sure to visit the Catholic Church on the main street and visit the adjacent cemetery which has a beautifully appointed track of graves, graves of Polish recruits who succumbed to the same flu epidemic.
The flu, among other reasons, managed to thin the ranks of the 33,000 who committed to serve, as only under 25,000 actually went to Europe. Some even joined after Armistice Day, to fight in Poland.
General Jozef Haller is sworn in as General of this ‘Blue Army’ on October 6th. An October 14th entry in the journal says: General Haller’s orders were read ‘to the Polish Forces formed from all corners’ and urges all soldiers to persevere at their posts to the end, to the liberation of a Free, United and Independent – with access to the Baltic – Poland.
November 11th entry: “Great celebrating. A great holiday. Allied victory over Germany. The victory was celebrated in camp in an especially festive manner.
This is the last entry in my father’s diary.
From France, the troops travel through Germany to Poland where they battle the Red Army and as was said in my introduction, stopped the spread of Communism into Western Europe, considered one of the 20 most important battles in world history.
I would like to finish this short presentation by emphasizing that the sacrifice of these men was real and profound. They risked their lives for a cause greater than themselves. Allow me to read the names on these two plaques.
The first is from Nest 31of the Polish Falcons: “ They died for the freedom of their Fatherland in the World War… Members of Nest 31 POR. FRANCISZEK ZEGARSKI
POR. FRANCISZEK BAUER
POR. STANISLAW WRONOWSKI
POR. IGNACY SOBIESKI
KAPR. WLADYSLAW PIETRAS”
The second is from Nest 79 and reads…”Polegli za WOLNOSC POLSKI W WOJNIE SWIATOWEJ 1917-1920 CZLONOWIE GN. 79 ….POR. J. DABROWSKI POR. K GODZISZEWSKI POR. J. MICHNIEWICZ PODCH.W.RUSILOWSKI
Nothing else needs to be said except CZESC ICH PAMIECI!