Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was decked out in Red and White – the National Colors of Poland – on Sunday as New York celebrated its 80th Annual Pulaski Day Parade. The Parade was established in 1936, and has been held annually on Fifth Avenue to honor General Casimir Pulaski, Father of the American Cavalry, since 1937. Billed as “the greatest manifestation of Polish pride in America,” the Parade made its way from 39th to 56th Streets as members of the clergy looked on from the steps of St. Patricks, and thousands of New Yorkers lined the streets. Festivities included national dress, folk dancing and music, as well as participation from Polish-American school, business, and civic groups. New York City municipal organizations such as the NYPD and FDNY also sent delegations to celebrate Polish heritage, and a group of marchers sporting a Greenpoint banner represented our community.
Casimir Pulaski was a Polish Nobleman turned American Revolutionary hero. Exiled from Russia for his work on behalf of Polish liberty, Pulaski went to Paris where he met Benjamin Franklin and joined the American cause. In 1777, Pulaski was with Washington’s men at Brandywine, aiding the Continental Army with his tactical prowess. He was rewarded with the commission of Brigadier-General in charge of the Army’s four cavalry units, and he helped the Americans prevail at Germantown and Valley Forge. In 1778, Congress approved an independent Cavalry under Pulaski’s leadership. In 1779, Pulaski and his Cavalry went south to recapture the city of Savannah. As Pulaski rode forth to lead his men into battle, he was mortally wounded by cannon fire, and he died two days later, on October 11. The Parade is held annually on the first Sunday in October to closely coincide with the 11th.
This year’s parade honors not one, but two Polish-American Revolutionary War Heroes. The theme of this Sunday’s event was Thadeus Kosciuszko – Hero of Two Nations. Kosciuszko lends his name to our dear, departed (and brand new!) bridge. Like Pulaski, Kosciuszko “represent[s] a shared history and an important chapter in the Polish-American relationship,” said Anna Domańska, acting director of the Polish Cultural Institute New York, in a statement. She added, “both men were Poles who fought for American freedom during the Revolutionary War and helped lay the foundations of the United States. Today, around 10 million Poles and Americans of Polish descent live in the U.S.” According to The Kosciusko Foundation, the man himself created the blueprints for West Point, planned the battle of Saratoga – a major turning point in the American revolution – and fought for the rights of Native Americans and African Americans. In Poland, he led an unsuccessful revolution to end feudalism and liberate Poland from foreign control.
Finally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Polish Blue Army, a force which included many Polish American immigrants, and which played a pivotal role in reestablishing an independent Poland after the First World War. There was much to commemorate and celebrate at Sunday’s Parade, and New Yorkers marched with pride.