It was a long and tedious path to link up Polish Gens. Casimir Pulaski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko with a Youngstown monument dedicated to Polish war veterans.
But eventually, the members of the group Polish Youngstown accomplished their goal earlier this year.
Pulaski and Kosciuszko, heroes of the Revolutionary War, never set foot in the Valley. But they were the inspiration for the naming of Poland and have been memorialized with statues in Peterson Park in the center of the village.
Conversely, the Polish war veterans monument once had a proud home outside Krakusy Hall, a Polish-American social hall on Youngstown’s South Side. That memorial was erected in 1970.
But like much of Youngstown, Krakusy is a shell of what it once was. The building has succumbed to urban rot, and the outside memorial to veterans of World War I and World War II was destined to fall, too, like the soldiers it honored — until Polish Youngstown stepped in.
Now, the Polish memorial shares space in Peterson Park with Pulaski and Kosciuszko.
That process taught a lot to club members Lisa Lotze and Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer.
“Trying to find out who owned what was six months of work,” said Lotze of the Polish monument and Krakusy.
“Who owned the building? Who owned the monument? The bank did not want it. The city did not want it.”
Lotze said the process was daunting.
“The work and money put toward these works was just amazing,” Lotze said. “But it’s more than just looking at monuments. This is our history, and before this history is totally lost, we need to capture it.”
Motivated by their work with the Polish memorial, they wanted to learn if other monuments needed saving. They went looking for a central list, and found a greater project.
There is no published, centralized list of Valley war memorials. Nowhere that they found, at least. And they knocked on many doors.
If there is a list, it’s not as publicized as it should be.
So they now have their sequel project to moving the Polish war memorial: making that list.
Valley veterans leader John Brown III has seen his share of war memorials as former national Amvets president.
He knows there are a couple of decent lists in the Valley within a couple of groups but acknowledges they are probably not complete, and certainly not readily available for the public.
Our Valley war history and the various burial plots and monuments date back to the start of our country, and he noted a handful of places where Revolutionary War soldiers are buried.
He likes the Polish Youngstown project. He offered a few of his favorite war memorials in the Valley, including some not so obvious:
On South Avenue in Youngstown between Williamson Avenue and the I-680 ramps.
A monument in North Lima.
He remembers being at the installations of both the South Avenue monument and the Polish war memorial.
Lotze has a small list started and is eager to add to it.
In getting started, she looked around the Internet and found some sites that list monuments in various places around the country. Touring these monuments and memorials is especially popular with motorcycle-rider groups, she said. But the lead site she found had no listings for Ohio.
“It’d be great for a Valley list to be the first one from Ohio on that site.”
She’s using Veterans Day this week as a starting point for a year-long project to catalogue all the Valley’s war monuments and build a group to showcase these tributes, and even relocate some if necessary if they’re in similar situations as the Polish war memorial.
She’s asking individuals and groups from all three counties to share with her their knowledge of their community’s monuments. The polishyoungstown.org website has her contact information and will serve as a gathering point for this.
“When you turn over a stone, it can never go back in the same place it was,” Lotze said. “So with the Polish monument effort, we found other monuments weren’t cared for, and it’s hard to turn your back on it.
“The monuments mean more than just the soldiers. They’re our fathers and brothers. It’s us and our history and our place. Our challenge is to regain the knowledge of previous generations before this history is totally lost.”