THE HEART of a PATRIOT.
S OMEWHERE IN AMERICA AGAIN THIS WEEK, the wife of a young soldier will open an envelope. Inside it, she will find a check. The very much-needed money will be used to pay bills and buy groceries while her dear husband risks his life for the freedom of long-oppressed country half a world away. For now, she is a single mom struggling to raise children on her own, praying her husband comes back whole.
She occupies a timeless place in the annals of U.S. military families. Generation to generation these families are connected by an invisible cord of sacrifice and duty for the sake of freedom in far-off lands.
FOLLOWING WORLD WAR I, such American families gripped the heart of world-renowned pianist Ignace Paderewski, a musical superstar of his time, who delivered $28,600 from four U.S. concert in 1925 to help seed the newly established American Legion Endowment Fund.. Eighty (80) years later, a little piece of Paderewski’s heart — a heart that never left America — still beats in the grant money dispersed from the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assis-tance Program, which helps military families with children. The TFA gets more than half its annual funding from the endowment. Interest from the endowment also produces substantial funding for th e Legion’s veterans rehab-ilitation services.
Artist, composer, statesman, philosophe r and activist for a free Poland — Pader-ewski was the biggest individual contributor in a Herculean effort that generated more than $5 million for the Legion. Earnings have helped military families and disabled veterans of every war since.
Poland owed everything to the troops of the American Expeditionary Forces, Paderewski professed . “I can never repay the debt my country owes to you men and women of the Legion,” he said before he was pinned with the Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1926. “To your sacrifices, Poland owes in large part her security and freedom.”
His words resonate today, as U. S. Troops continue to battle deadly inurgents in an effort to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq.
Paderewiski is often regarded as one of the greatest pianists ever to per -form in concert. His performances sold out in halls around the world before and after the turn of the century. Scores of young piano students in decades to come would spend innumerable after-school hours plinking through his sheet music. Paderewski, the activist, rallied Polish Americans to fight in the AEF and help reassemble a fractured Poland. He later helped Woodrow Wilson write the 13th of his 14 Points. He signed the Treaty of Versailles and was chosen to lead a newly free Poland in 1919. A year later, he returned to the piano and played before packed houses after critics thought his career was over.
When Hitler conquered Poland, Paderewski was heartbroken. He lobbied then President Franklin Roosevelt to prepare America for war, but he did not live long enough to see U.S. forces crush the Axis and restore hope, once again, to Poland.
During his career, Paderewski traveled the world not only to play music but also to espouse the virtues of democracy . He was an eclectic figure in the history of Amer-ica, of Poland and of The American Legion. He indelibly influenced U.S. Ambas-sador Edward L. Rowny, a retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army and former top Reagan administration official.
Following are words of remembrance by Rowny:
Paderewski told his sister that no matter what happened to his body, his heart must remain in the United States. His inspiration was the great 19th-century composer, Frederick Chopin, whose body was laid to rest in Paris while his heart went where his love was, in Poland.
Roosevelt wanted Paderewski buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
When Secretary of War Henry Stimson advised the president that only U.S. citizens could be buried there, Roosevelt directed that Paderewski’s body be interred in a crypt at Arlington, at the base of the mast of the Maine. It was to remain there until Poland was free again. Paderewski died on June 29, 1941, six months before the United States officially entered the war that would end Hitler’s march through Europe.
When his body was prepared, his heart was removed, and it mysteriously disappeared. For the next several decades, his admirers wondered what became of it. His sister spent two years searching for his heart before she died, never knowing.
PADEREWSKI WAS BORN NOV. 6, 1860, in the Russian-occupied city of Podolia. By the time he was 21, he attained national acclaim as a composer and concert pianist. His popularity soared. His virtuoso performances, sponsored by Steinway & Sons, brought renown to the piano manufacturer. He played some 300 concerts and was one of the first entertainers to take the stage at the newly built Carnegie Hall, on Nov. 17, 1891. That year, he netted $1 million. Tall and handsome, blue eyes and red hair, he played with drama and flair. Women swooned over him.
By 1895, Poland had suffered its third partition at the hands of the Germans, then the Austrians and finjally, Russians. It ceased to exist. Paderewski began to write and speak on democracy, and to rally support in America for a free Poland. He loved America and its values. He played for presidents, some of whom were not yet elected at the time.
In Palo Alto, Calif., during the early 1890s, a college student summoned Pader-ewski for a concert at Stanford University. When the artist arrived, only six people were in attendance. The student had failed to promote the show or sell tickets. Embarrassed, he asked Paderewski not to play and promised he would find a way to pay him. Paderewski waived his fee and played anyway. Afterward, the pianist learned the student owed $5,000 for rental of the concert hall and the piano. Paderewski took out his checkbook and asked to whom he should make it out. “Herbert Hoover,” the future U.S. president replied.
On another tour date, in Fulton, Mo., a Viennese music teacher came backstage during an intermission. A pre-teenage boy was in tow. The boy, she explained, could not play the trills of Paderewski’s Minuet in G. After the concert, Pader-ewski worked with the boy until he mastered the piece. The boy was Harry S. Truman.
Paderewski met Wilson in 1914. The friendship led Wilson and his top advisers to have the pianist-activist help write the 13th of Wilson’s 14 Points — calling for the reconstitution of a free and independent Poland. Paderewski later accompanied Wilson to the Hall of Mirrors, where they signed the Treaty of Versailles. Paderewski would be the prime minister of a new, free Poland. He believed in the connection between the arts and world affairs and said performing artists were in a unique position to effectively promote freedom through their talents. He funded programs in which successful artists were cross-trained in international affairs and accomplished scholars were immersed in the arts. He also gave freely of his time and money to support programs to advance women’s rights and to assist widowed, indigent and abused Polish women.
FOR YEARS FOLLOWING HIS DEATH, THE MYSTERY OF PAD-EREWSKI’S MISSING HEART STUMPED HIS MANY ADMIRERS.
Decades later, by luck, one of Lech Walesa’s American relatives saw the initials I.J.P. on a crypt while visiting a cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y. The caretaker confirmed that the crypt indeed held the heart of Paderewski. In 1986, under the auspices of the Polish-American Congress, his heart was placed in a shrine ded-icated to his patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa, in Doylestown, Pa.
His body had remained under the mast of the Maine for years, a fact known only to a few . President Kennedy learned of it after seeing an article in The Washington Post and ordered a marker be placed at the crypt’s entrance to acknowledge it.
Kennedy ordered me, the senior Polish-American in uniform, back from Vietnam to witness the unveiling of the marker. I had first heard of Paderewski from my grandmother when I was 6 years old; she instilled in me an appreciation of his music, statesmanship and patriotism. The president gave a moving speech that day. He echoed Paderewski’s philosophy in declaring that artists, as free spirits, are uniquely qualified to promote democracy.
In 1981, I served as President Reagan’s chief arms-control negotiator. I prevailed upon him to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Paderewski’s death. He agreed. Reagan’s speech that day reflected on Paderewski’s philosophy and promised U.S. support of the labor movement there, to wrest Poland from Soviet domination. That day, The American Legion placed a marker at Paderewski’s long-time resting place that read:
IN MEMORY OF IGNACE JAN PADEREWSKI
ARTIST, COMPOSER, MUSICIAN,
STATESMAN, PATRIOT, HUMANITARIAN
AND FRIEND OF AMERICAN WAR VETERANS.
MAY HIS SOUL REST IN THE
PEACEFUL FREEDOM HE SO WANTED
FOR HIS HOMELAND OF POLAND.
In 1988, Reagan authorized me to tell Walesa that when he became president of Poland, Paderewski’s body would be returned. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, and Poland regained its freedom. Plans were made to return Paderewski’s body on the 50th anniversary of his death — June 29, 1991. Walesa, on a state visit to America, said he had not sufficiently consolidated the government to welcome the artist home on that date and asked that it be postponed until June 29, 1992.
On that date, I was in Warsaw with Paderewski’s body. I was honorary chairman of a group of distinguished Polish Americans, including Past National Commander of The American Legion Michael Kogutek. We had participated in a magnificent ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, where Paderewski’s casket was draped in a Polish flag and transported to Andrews Air Force Base. Upon our arrival in Warsaw, we were greeted to another elaborate ceremony, attended by Walesa, prominent Polish leaders and two of Paderewski’s living second cousins.
We traveled in a military procession. Thousands lined the streets, waving American and Polish flags. At the Baroque Royal Castle in downtown Warsaw, President George H. W . Bush formally delivered Paderewski’s body and exalted the composer’s philosophy on art and democracy, patriotism and passion.
There, Paderewski’s body could finally rest in peace, in a Poland he dreamed to see free. His heart, meanwhile, remains in America, where his love and gratitude would forever reside.
THE PADEREWSKI SCHOLARSHIP
Retired Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny funded the Paderewski Scholarship, an annual program allowing Polish students to attend leadership training programs through the Fund for American Studies at Georgetown University. The Fund for American Studies now administers the scholarship.
Scholars study political, business and cultural affairs to help build closer ties be-tween the United States and Poland. For information about the fund and how to make donations, contact:
Ed Turner: Fund for American Studies,
at (202) 986-0384 or by writing to:
1706 New Hampshire Ave. N.W.,
Washington, DC 20009.
for more information.
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