The Polish Falcons of America

Teofil StarzynskiAlthough the exact numbers are slightly disputed, nearly one third of the 20,000+ volunteers from America came from the Polish Falcons of America. The Polish Falcons of America were (and they still exist today) a Polish organization with a focus on physical fitness, patriotic education and the establishment of an independent and reunifed Polish state.

The Polish Falcons were originally establish in Chicago in 1887 as an association for Polish immigrants new to America. Their design was a direct offshoot of similiar associations operating in partitioned Poland. Physical education, maintaining a firm link to their Polish heritage, and continuing the struggle for Poland's independence were their core pillars. In the early 1900's they had slowly become more militant and forces within the Falcons oriented the organization towards favoring some form of direct military action or czyn zbrojny. As early as 1905 Falcons organized psuedo-military maneuvers.

The Falcons story is long and complex one which would require much more time and space devoted to it to tell it properly. Political fighting with other Polish organizations and mergers and splits make their story quite long. Because of this I will have to jump to the time around 1916.

Many factors played a part, but in general the Falcons were preparing to start building a Polish Army in the US. With a discreet agreement with Canada, a small group of Falcons made their way across the border and began training the the Canadian Officers' Training Program. These men would become the first future officers of the Polish Army in France. Five of them would be the ones to open another officer training program at the Alliance School in Cambridge Springs, PA.

Everything came to a boil on April 3, 1917. President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on the Central Powers, and the following day Ignacy Paderewski was convinced by the president of the Falcons, Theo Starzynski, to speak at the extraoridinary convention of the Falcons in Pittsburgh, PA. His subject would be the formation of a Polish Army to fight along with the forces of the United States.

As it turned out, fighting along side the US would not come to fruition. However, not much later (June 4, 1917) the French government announced its intent to form a Polish army in France. The makeup of this army was to be primarily from Poles living in Western Europe, Polish POW's and immigrants from the United States. Their announcement paved the way for the process of recruiting to get started. The Falcons formed a military commission to interact with the French govenment and pass them recruits from America.

The concept of a foreign army being trained and formed in the United States was not a welcomed one by the administration of President Wilson. Because of this it took a few months to iron out an agreement between all the parties involved. In the end the US officially allowed recruiting of only Polish immigrants who: were not US citizens, hadn't applied to be citizens and had no family to take care of, ie they were single and had no dependents. Additionally there was a concern about Poles from the areas under control of the Germans or Austrians. If caught in battle, they could be considered triators and suffer extreme punishment such as execution. So on top of all the other factors, only Poles from what was Russia could be considered for recruitment! On top of it all, restrictions were put on the Polish recruitment posters so that they were small and somewhat descreet so they didn't interfere with the US Army recruitment drive.

Despite all these factors there were around 3,000 men training at the Niagra on the Lake camp by November of 1917, just 6 months after the Falcon convention in Pittsburgh!


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