In the United States there is an omnipresent tradition of ensuring that heroes are properly recognized – every month – especially in May. We then celebrate Military Appreciation Month and the intrepid men and women who innumerably risk their lives in the name of America and the values it embraces. The U.S. Congress specifically designated this time of the year as Military Appreciation Month in 1999 to ensure every American is given the opportunity to publicly show their gratitude to our Armed Forces. During the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Americans can witness the bravery and compassion of our troops at first hand.
During Military Appreciation Month I think deeply of the valiant service and tremendous sacrifice of members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and National Guard, both those in and out of uniform, as well as the supportive role of their spouses and entire families. American history is a testament that acts of military heroism are in a class of their own, and deservedly so. I also think of those who serve in the Armed Forces of our allied countries, particularly by virtue of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). I had the privilege to spend time in one such nation, the Republic of Poland.
Today, Poland – a vigorous component of NATO – finds itself on the advent of celebrating 100 years since the Battle of Warsaw, commonly known as the Miracle of the Vistula. Poland will be stronger for the virtuous effort that its headship is waging on behalf of those who perished and the individuals who risked their lives so the country could thrive to unprecedented heights, including in 2018 by becoming the first state in all of Central and Eastern Europe to be proclaimed as a “developed market”.
Poland’s legacy was marked by greatness during the interwar period and later resilience following the unimaginable suffering and strife under German and Soviet occupation. One can contrast the symbolism of heroes, notably the valorous Warsaw Uprising combatants, Warsaw Getto Uprising fighters, the Indomitable Soldiers, the Righteous Among the Nations, activists of the Workers’ Defense Committee, and others who engaged in resistance against German and Soviet barbarism so inimical to basic human rights, with various functionaries of the vile communist apparatus and their vestigial secret police and intelligence units as well as other scoundrels of the Polish United Workers’ Party and their immoral enablers.
As Poland is elevated to its zenith, inspired by those responsible for Polish sovereignty and owing to the apt policies of its leadership, we can continue to behold Poland flourish economically, socially, and militarily. We must encourage positive inclinations to advance the efforts honoring strength, courage, and solidarity. This Military Appreciation Month conjures up an exceptional level of reflection as we contemplate a dying breed of intrepid patriots in the U.S. and Poland, such as Major Eugenia Maria Cegielska, nom de guerre Anita, a Home Army soldier, Warsaw Uprising hero, and Stalag VI-C survivor, whom I had the privilege of assisting at the National Association of Former Soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. As my mind reverts to Major Cegielska, now deceased, I know we have a duty to honor her memory as well as those few who are still alive.
Veterans are the bedrock of any prosperous and free nation. We owe a wholehearted thank you (or “dziękuję”) to those who sacrificed so much for our freedoms and liberties. During this time of COVID-19, may this Military Appreciation Month especially be remembered in history as a time that we unite for a great good – the greatest good there is – honoring those who died and those who served so that we could live in a more peaceful world. Let me conclude by quoting the immortal words of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, “To be defeated and not submit, is victory; to be victorious and rest on one’s laurels, is defeat.”
Peter “Max” Ballas-Bograd, the Executive Officer to the President of the International Security Forum, is a committed Atlanticist bridging public, private and nonprofit sectors. A past Presidential Scholar at Davidson College, he holds a degree in sociology from Seton Hall University