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Kosciuszko and West Point
Edward L. Rowny
Former Ambassador and LTG USA (RET)

This year the annual Kosciuszko Ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 3, 2003.  All members of the Long Grey Line*, and friends and families, are invited.  The ceremony commemorates the debt that the United States, and West Point in particular, owe to Thaddeus Kosciuszko.  Best known as the designer and builder of West Point, Kosciuszko gained intial fame for his strategy at the battles of Ticonderoga and Saratoga.

Kosciuszko Garden, on an escarpment below Cullum Hall, was his favorite retreat.  Over the years the Garden has fallen into disrepair, but has recently been refurbished by the family of the author (Class of '41 and Distinguished Graduate).

  Thaddeus Kosciuszko, as a young military officer, studied military engineering in France.  He volunteered his services to General George Washington.  Kosciuszko was not only a good soldier, but also a superb engineer and fiery patriot.  After the battles at Fort Ticonderoga and Saratoga, General Washington asked Kosciuszko, who had distinguished himself as the premiere engineer of the American Revolution, to build a fort on the Hudson River.  The object was to deny the British the use of the river, by which they could resupply their troops to the north.  Kosciuszko selected the site at the double bend of the Hudson River which is now West Point.  It served as the western anchor of the huge iron chain which he erected across the river.  Later, Kosciuszko fought with the Southern Army and took part in the last battle of the war on James Island, South Carolina, November 14, 1782.  After the war, he returned to Poland, where he took part in the unsuccessful attempts to free Poland from Russian, Prussian, and Austrian domination.  In 1797 he returned to the United States with the intention of retiring here.  However, his friend Thomas Jefferson sent him to France to, through diplomacy, lessen the tensions between the U.S. and the radical French government.

  At the end of Kosciuszko's service, the United States Congress promoted him to Brigadier General, and awarded him back pay.  Kosciuszko had designated his friend Thomas Jefferson the executor of his will.  In it, he specified that the funds from his estate were to be used for the emancipation and education of American slaves.

  As a child I had heard about the exploits of the great Thaddeus Kosciuszko from my uncle, A. C. Redziszewski.  He designed and built a monument in Baltimore to another great Revolutionary War Polish general, Casimir Pulaski.  In 1936, as a junior at Johns Hopkins University, I was awarded one of the first scholarships given by the Kosciuszko Foundation.  The scholarship paid for my passage to and from Poland and for my room and board for a semester at the Jagiellonian University at Krakow.  While there I travelled around Europe and attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  I not only saw Jesse Owens win four medals, but observed the rising militarism of Hitler's Germany.  Conviced that a war was coming, I graduated from Johns Hopkins, resigned my reserve commission, and entered West Point on 1 July, 1937.

  At West Point, I learned more about Kosciuszko.  I became convinced that if his name had been more easily pronounceable, like other famous engineers Robert E. Lee and Douglas McArthur, Kosciuszko would be better-known.  As a matter of fact, the pronunciation of Kosciuszko's name got me into trouble.  Shortly after my entry as a plebe to West Point, an upperclassman pointed to the large monument on the plain and asked: "Dumb john, what's the name of that monument?"
  "Kosh-chu-sko," I said.
  "No, dumb john, it's the Kos-ki-os-ko monument."
"Sir, I can speak Polish, and know how to pronounce the name."
"No, you don't," he said.  "Do ten pushups."
Every week for the next year, the upperclassman came back and asked me the same question.  I stuck to my pronunciation, and every week did ten more pushups. 
On the day I became an upperclassman, my tormentor shook my hand and smiled.  "Now," he said, "you can say Kosh-chu-sko.  I know you were right, but West Point is based on tradition, and to plebes, the name is pronunced Kos-ki-os-ko."

Barely six months after graduating in 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  My timing proved fortuitous since it had allowed me four years of training at West Point.  Quite naturally, I elected to join the Corps of Engineers.  After serving as Corps Engineer in Korea, I joined the Infantry.

  The events of May 3, 2003 will commence at 9:45 am with a mass at Holy Trinity Chapel.  The Corps of Cadets will parade on the Plain at 11:30 am.  Immediately thereafter, at 12:30 pm, the annual ceremony honoring Kosciuszko will be held at his monument.  All are invited to join the several thousand Polish and Polish-American veterans, who are annually brought to West Point by Dean Anthony Bajdek, to witness the ceremony.  This year there will be an additional group representing the Kosciuszko Foundation.  At 2:00 pm there will be a lunch at the Thayer Hotel.  Seating will be on a first come, first serve basis.  People wishing to attend should contact Dean Bajdek at (617) 373-2695.  At 5 pm a plaque will be unveiled at the Kosciuszko Garden.  Since space at this site is limited, attendance will be limited to the Rowny family and friends.

For more information on the ceremony, contact the USMA Public Relations Office at (845) 938-3614.  For other details, contact me at .

*Long Gray Line: those who can boast of West Point as their alma mater.


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