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A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron    by Lynne Olson & Stanley Cloud order for
Question of Honor
by Lynne Olson
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

I warn you, I may be a tad biased about A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron, Forgotten Heroes of World War II. I am Polish, born into a large family, of immigrant parents. The book, marvelously-written and well-researched, expanded my knowledge of Poland's heroes. Reading, I visualized three of my five brothers, who fought in WWII, one of whom was wounded in Germany and decorated with three medals of honor and the Purple Heart.

Who was Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Kosciuszko? This Polish patriot fought in the American Revolution, and died of typhoid fever in 1817. Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud report the heroic exploits of Polish airmen (of the 303 Squadron named after Kosciuszko), who fought with the RAF in England, in Italy, in France, in Africa. This squadron of heroes destroyed over 120 German aircraft, and played a major role in the course of the War, specifically at the Battle of Britain. The 303 Squadron included trained pilots from Poland's famed Deblin academy. A Question of Honor is an informative read about courage, tenacity, honor above all, bravery and determination. During the years of the war, the Poles were promised time and again by Winston Churchill that 'we (England) will not forget you, we will be there to help you ...' -- it never happened. And United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also chose to ignore Poland's requests for assistance against its destruction by Germany.

Here is one documented incident: 'Feric switched off the still smoking engine and decided to try to glide back across the Channel to home. Trailing smoke, unable to maneuver, he was an easy prey for any German fighter that happened to be returning to France from England. As the seconds ticked by, with nothing below him but water, Feric saw his altimeter steadily dropping 8,000 feet ... Two planes appear in the hazy distance, and Feric caught his breath. Then he recognized ... 'Hurricanes' ... saw the Kosciuszko Squadron insignia on the fuselages. The planes turned and flanked him, flying close enough that he could see members of his Polish Squadron ... escorting his damaged aircraft to safe landing'. After all his air battles, Feric died when one wing broke off and his plane crashed on a routine flight. One of Feric's diary entries -- 'We know that many of us will die ... But what of it? There is nothing to live for if there is no Poland. It is for 'her' that we are doing all this -- not to achieve fame, not to score a certain number of kills, not for the French, not for the English. We are doing this for Poland.'

There was an unusual ending for pilot Marian Pisarek, whose Hurricane (hit by a German fighter) spiraled down in flames. After crash landing, Pisarek scrambled out of the plane, but his left foot was snagged in the cockpit. He finally wrenched it free, leaving the boot behind. That same boot was retrieved in 1976 during an archaeological excavation from a nearby garden. And I found this the most endearing account of all. Fliers who made it to Bucharest were instructed to get rid of anything identifying the Polish Military. Most did. However one pilot refused to part with the wooden propeller he had unbolted from the nose of his aircraft. Before he was through, he would lug the large wooden propeller from Poland to Romania to France, and finally, to England. That propeller resides today in London's Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, which contains the archives of the Polish armed forces and the Polska government-in-exile in France and England during WWII.

Part I of the book is primarily devoted to the Kosciuszko Squadron; in Part II, the author opens a different closet of descriptions of what was happening inside Poland, England, the United States, Italy, France, Africa and other territories. Reference is made to Churchill and Roosevelt, who time and again chose to avoid angering Russia's leader, disregarding Stalin's role in the deaths of thousands of Poles sent to Siberia; then in the murder of thousands of Poles, especially the slaughter of 4000 officers, buried in graves at Katyn. Groves of trees were planted to hide the burial ground. As the reader continues the tome's journey, it becomes obvious how Part I and II connect WWII activities in the same timeframes.

A book like A Question of Honor arouses both knowledge and emotions in readers. It has done so for me - a thorn pricks my heart after learning of Poland's pleas and trust that the western Allies would come to its aid after Germany's horrendous invasion. Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud - Dziekuje bardzo! (thank you very much) - for deepening my comprehension of Poland's battles.

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