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March 6, 2008

General Pulaski Honored on Capitol Hill

by Edward Pinkowski ("Bialy Orzel," April 18, 2008, p. 10)

The Pinkowski's aren't the only people excited about the lives the memory of General Casimir Pulaski touched on Capitol Hill in Washington, D. C. You couldn't escape the presence of singers in a meeting room of the Rayburn House Office Building filled to capacity on the 263rd anniversary of Pulaski's birthday.

As American and Polish flags stood on the sides of the podium, four women formed an impromptu choir in a corner, without a band to help them, and led the audience in singing the American and Polish national anthems. So far as I know, never before, in the history of the federal government, were the two anthems sung like that.

If the Polish hero of the American Revolution were living today, he would have to thank the ingenuity of Polish women and the National Polish Center for the ceremonies in his honor.

The singers who made history on March 6, which is still not listed in all references as the anniversary of Pulaski's birth in Warsaw, Poland (take notice, media), were Mary Ann Evan, once upon a time, in the days of Dr. Kaya Ploss, a hostess and valuable assistant at the National Polish Center; Debbie Majka, past president of the American Council of Polish Culture and now president of the Polish Heritage Society of Philadelphia; Teresa Wojcik, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Kosciuszko Foundation; and Dr. Monica Krol, executive director of the National Polish Center.

Pulaski Award

The ceremonies drew the attention of several members of Congress, including Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Daniel Lipinski of Illinois; and various organizations, predominately by the Polish Legion of American Veterans and the Pulaski Cadets. The program began with a prayer by Monsignor Philip S. Majka, Catholic chaplain at Dulles Airport.

The chairman of the National Polish Center, Professor Jack Pinkowski, welcomed everybody and recognized the heads of many Polish societies, who came from near and far, and read letters supporting legislation to make Pulaski an honorary citizen of the United States. He took time, while waiting for Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur to arrive, to talk about Pulaski and quote from his writings.

[Pulaski Portrait ]

Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (Democrat - Ohio) presents the Pulaski Achievement Award to Dr. Charles F. Merbs

Kaptur handed out the Pulaski Achievement Award to Dr. Charles F. Merbs, professor emeritus of Arizona State University, in recognition of his study which proved that General Pulaski's remains were laid at rest in Savannah, Georgia, and not at sea.

Last year the honorable congresswoman from Toledo, Ohio, gave a plaque, then known as the Marcy Kaptur Award, to Dr. James C. Metts, coroner of Savannah Georgia, and chairman of the Pulaski Identification Team, for the support he gave to forensic scientists in the search for DNA evidence.

In addition, each recipient received an honorarium of $1,000.

"These awards go to individuals and organizations that have done outstanding work in preserving the legacy of General Pulaski," said Dr. Pinkowski.

"This is just our way to show how much we appreciate the work they do to preserve our roots in America."

Dr. Merbs traveled from Tempe, Arizona, where he lives with his wife of many years, to speak in the salon of the National Polish Center about Pulaski's remains and receive the award on Capitol Hill. He noted the wear and tear of the bones of Pulaski's skeleton and how everything matched with physical findings and written records.

[Pulaski Portrait ]

Standing at the bust of General Pulaski are (left to right) Edward Pinkowski, honored guest Dr. Charles Merbs, and Chairman of the National Polish Center, Dr. Jack Pinkowski

Merbs was a professor at Arizona State University in the spring of 1996 when his daughter, Heather, called him from Savannah, Georgia, to mention the discovery of human bones under the Pulaski Monument. Shortly after, in December, he went to Savannah with his wife and, together with five members of the Pinkowski family, saw the forgotten bones of General Pulaski. Not since 1853 had anyone else outside of Georgia seen them. They were hidden in a sealed brick vault during all that time. Savannah had literally forgotten about them. "I never dreamed," Dr. Merbs said, "that we would learn as much about Pulaski as we did. It changed everything previously written about him."

The Merbs and Pinkowski families were unable to talk about what they saw in a Georgia morgue until Dr. Metts issued his report in 2007. Professor Merbs was glad that he went to Savannah to work on the case. He will never forget it.

Pulaski Bust

Joe Davis, director of Public Affairs at the Washington office of VFW, delivered the keynote address and read a letter from George Lisicki, commander of the VFW, with 2.3 million members, in support of the House resolution which will make Pulaski in death an honorary citizen of the United States.

At the right moment, Alexander Koproski and his wife, Patricia, received a dual award in recognition of their devotion to the National Polish Center over many years. They turned the offices they held to younger hands but remained as board directors.

[Koproski Picture ]

Dr. Jack Pinkowski presents an award of special recognition to Alexander and Patricia Koproski, chairman emeritus and treasurer emeritus, respectively, of the National Polish Center

In just two years, the National Polish Center has found enough partners in the modernized Pulaski tribute on Capitol Hill to make it harder and harder to accommodate them in laying wreaths at the bust of Pulaski. The alcove around the sculpture in the Senate Vestibule is pretty small. Owing to new security regulations, which require a senator's intern, page, or guide, to accompany each group, no more than 15 persons at a time, through the Senate wing, each group took turns.

It meant that most of the March 6th celebrators soon lost touch with one another. Unless the senators find a larger place for the Pulaski bust, the piecemeal method of wreath laying will remain.

The last time the Pulaski bust was moved from a dark corner to a more prominent spot in the Senate Vestibule was 1972 when Senators Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie used their influence to change the location.

[Wojcik Picture ]

Standing at the bust of General Pulaski (l. to. r.) are Teresa G. Wojcik Ph.D. and her father Walter Wojcik

(Editor's note: It is expected that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will soon approve Edward Pinkowski's application for a historical marker in Philadelphia where Henry Dmochowski carved the Pulaski bust.)

[Cadets Picture ]

Pulaski Cadets pay homage to General Pulaski; the busts behind them, in the relatively small space of the stairwell are (l. to r.) Thaddeus Koscuszko, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Casimir Pulaski