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Orchard Lake

Polish Mission honors American, Polish WWII vets

August 25, 2014

» click to enlarge «
Retired Capt. Emil Kornacki — North America’s last living survivor of Katyn and recipient of the Virtuti Militari — poses with students of St. Mary’s Preparatory during the 2013 commemoration.

ORCHARD LAKE — Sept. 1, 1939, will haunt Polish history as the day the first shots of World War II were fired and Germany invaded Poland, according to JJ Przewozniak, curator of collections at the Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools.

To remember the start of the war, the Polish community in Orchard Lake annually hosts a memorial event.

The Polish Mission will salute American and Polish veterans who dedicated themselves to the cause of freedom at the September 1939 Commemoration from 12:30-7 p.m. Sept. 7. Fifty percent of the event’s proceeds will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.

“The event itself … is Orchard Lake’s proudest tradition. … This year — what we’ve been trying to put in place over the last three years — is a Polish and American commemoration together,” Przewozniak said.

This year’s commemoration will be the biggest event in its history, and the day will kick off at the Galeria and outdoors at the Shrine Chapel, where several museum exhibits will be displayed, including pieces from the Institute of National Remembrance of the Republic of Poland, the Museum of Polish History and the Galicja Jewish Museum, according to a press release. The exhibits will be on display from 12:30-5 p.m. This will be the first time they have been seen in North America, and the exhibits have all been translated into English.

“The anniversary this year is absolutely huge. We’re going to have some of the few remaining Polish veterans from World War II in attendance as our most honored guest,” Przewozniak said.

An original M187 75mm artillery piece from World War I will return to Orchard Lake for the veteran recognition ceremony. The quick-firing cannon is the first modern artillery piece — a hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism allowed soldiers to shoot up to 15 rounds per minute, the press release stated. The cannon is the same one that would have been used by the Polish Army, Przewozniak said.

Mass will be celebrated in Polish by the Rev. Louis Madey at 1 p.m., and military flags will be presented by members of the U.S. military.

Following the Mass, attendees will parade through campus — led by the U.S. Marine Corps — and will end at North America’s only monument erected in honor of the Katyn massacres of 1940 and the tragedy at Smolensk in 2010. Przewozniak said that retired Capt. Emil Kornacki — North America’s last living survivor of Katyn and recipient of the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military honor for gallantry in combat — will speak about his experiences.

According to Przewozniak, Kornacki received the Virtuti Militari in 1944 for gallantry at the Battle of Monte Cassino as a member of the Polish Second Corps. That same year, he also received Poland’s second-highest military honor — the  Krzyz Walecznych, or Cross of Valour — for gallantry at the battle of Montefortino. The Virtuti Militari is equivalent to the American Medal of Honor, and Krzyz Walecznych is equivalent to the American Silver Star, he added.

A coin barbecue will be held at 2:30 p.m., and veterans with challenge coins will receive a free lunch. For all others, lunch is $7 and includes side dishes and a beverage.

The Detroit Children’s Choir will open the evening’s musical entertainment on the Shrine Chapel steps at 5 p.m., and the Orchard Lake Philharmonic Orchestra will perform from 5:30-7 p.m.

For a complete list of events of the Polish Mission’s September 1939 Commemoration, or to become an event sponsor, visit

About the author

Staff Writer Cari DeLamielleure-Scott covers West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake and the West Bloomfield Schools and Walled Lake Community Schools districts for the Beacon. Cari has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Madonna University.

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