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2 Poles Who Aided the American Revolution

Warm up the pierogies, Polish American heritage month is here again! Last year, we ticked off a list of 8 things you need to know about Polish Americans. This year, we're going to change things up a bit and profile two men who helped make the very idea of a Polish American (or any other kind of American for that matter) possible through their efforts in the war for American independence.

1. Kazimierz Michał Wacław Wiktor Pułaski

Pułaski was born in 1745 to a family of wealthy nobles in the village of Winiary. He studied at a college in Warsaw and became a page of one of the vassals of the Polish king. Not long after Pułaski began the job, though, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became a protectorate of the Russian Empire and the court was expelled by Russian forces occupying Poland.

In 1768, Pułaski, along with his father, became one of the co-founders of the Bar Confederation, an association of nobles that aimed to defend the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from both the Russian Empire and Polish reformers attempting to limit the power of the Commonwealth's nobility. Pułaski became a commander of confederate soldiers and engaged Russian forces in combat for the next four years.

In 1771, Pułaski helped organize an attempt to kidnap King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, who supported the Russian occupation.

The kidnapping plot failed and Pułaski was sentenced to death in absentia for attempted regicide. He fled the Commonwealth and found no state that would accept him. He finally settled in France illegally, where he encountered Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin recommended to General George Washington that PuÅ‚aski, "renowned"¦for the courage and bravery he displayed in defense of his country's freedom," be recruited for the American cavalry. PuÅ‚aski accepted the American offer and arrived in Philadelphia in 1777, taking part in the Battle of Brandywine just a few months later. Washington acknowledged PuÅ‚aski's skills and bravery with a promotion to the rank of brigadier general of the American cavalry and gave him command of four light cavalry regiments.

The 111th Congress has, as of 10/09, passed resolutions in each house proclaiming Pułaski an honorary citizen of the United States. The House bill and the Senate bill will have to be reconciled before President Obama can sign a bill. If the rest of the process goes smoothly, Pułaski will be only the seventh person to receive honorary citizenship. Winston Churchill was the first in 1963, followed by Swedish diplomat and Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, Pennsylvania co-founder and governor William Callowhill Penn and his wife Hannah, Mother Teresa, and Marquis de Lafayette.

Pułaski's poor grasp of English and domineering personality caused difficulties in his new position, which he soon resigned. But Washington allowed Pulaski to organize an independent corps, dubbed the Pułaski Cavalry Legion. Pułaski led the legion for the rest of his involvement in the war, dipping into his personal finances to furnish equipment for his troops when money from Congress was scarce. The legion fought at the Little Egg Harbor massacre in New Jersey, the Siege of Charleston, South Carolina, and the Battle of Savannah, Georgia. During this last battle, in 1779, Pułaski led a cavalry charge while probing for weaknesses in the British line and was wounded by grapeshot fired from a cannon. He was carried from the battlefield by his troops and placed aboard a merchant ship. He was buried at sea.

One month later, Washington paid tribute to PuÅ‚aski by issuing a challenge-and-password set to the Continental Army for identifying friends and enemies when crossing military lines: "Query: Pulaski, response: Poland."

In 1929, Congress passed a resolution to recognize October 11 "General Pulaski Memorial Day," in order to recognize the "father of the American cavalry" and celebrate the heritage of Polish Americans. Several states and cities—Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadlephia and New York City among them—also have memorial days or parades that commemorate Pulaski's birth or death.

2. Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko

Kościuszko was the youngest son of a Polish noble living in the village of Mereczowszczyzna (in what is now Belarus, but was then part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). In 1765, he enrolled at the newly created Szkoła Rycerska (Knight Academy) in the Corps of Cadets, studying military subjects and the liberal arts. After graduating, Kościuszko and a colleague received royal scholarships and went to Paris, where Kościuszko studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. He decided that he did not want to be a painter, but could not transfer to a French military academy because he was a foreigner. He earned his own French military education, though, by going to free lectures and visiting the libraries of Paris' military academies.

polishamericansWhen Kościuszko returned home in 1774, there was no position for him in the army, which had been drastically reduced in the First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He took a job tutoring the family of a governor instead and fell in love with the governor's daughter. The two planned to elope in the American colonies, but were tracked down and stopped by employees of the girl's father. Kościuszko received a beating from them which would inform his views on social pretense and class inequality.

The following year, he again left the Commonwealth, for Paris, where he learned about the war in the American colonies. KoÅ›ciuszko went to America and volunteered for the army. In 1776, Congress commissioned him as a Colonel of Engineers was then named head engineer of the Continental Army. He was sent to Pennsylvania to work on the fortification of Philadelphia. There, he constructed Fort Billingsport and fortified the banks of the Delaware River. He also got a chance to read the Declaration of Independence—he was so moved by it, he sought out a meeting with Thomas Jefferson. The two eventually became close friends.

From there, Kościuszko went on to oversee the construction of forts and military camps along the Canadian border, was given command of the military engineering works at West Point by George Washington and then oversaw more fort construction in the Southeast.

In 1783, Kościuszko was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and received American citizenship, a parcel of land, and memberships in the Society of the Cincinnati and the American Philosophical Society. The next year, he returned to Poland and settled in his home village. He would later defend his homeland in the Polish-Russian War of 1792 and receive Poland's highest military honor, the Virtuti Militari medal, for his actions at the Battle of Zieleńce.

Kościuszko's body is interred in a crypt at Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, the final resting place of many Polish kings and national heroes. His heart, removed from the body during embalming, is kept at a chapel at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

When King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski surrendered to the Russians in August of that year, Kościuszko fled to Leipzig, where Polish commanders and politicians were preparing an uprising against Poland's Russian occupiers. Kościuszko made a trip to Paris during this time to accept honorary citizenship in France, and to gain French support for the uprising in Poland.

The Second Partition of Poland in 1793, and the subsequent reduction of the army and mass arrests of Polish politicians and military commanders by Russian agents, forced Kościuszko to begin the uprising earlier than planned. After early victories, Kościuszko's forces were outnumbered at the Battle of Maciejowice, and Kościuszko was wounded and imprisoned in Saint Petersburg. The uprising ended with the Siege of Warsaw, Tomasz Wawrzecki's (the new commander of the uprising) surrender.

In 1796, Tsar Paul I of Russia pardoned and freed Kościuszko, who settled in France and remained politically active among the Polish émigrés. He died of typhoid fever in Solothurn, Switzerland, in October, 1817.

KoÅ›ciuszko's global freedom fighting made him a national hero in Poland, Lithuania, and the US, so he has received his fair share of tributes around the world, both great and small: from Kosciuszko Street in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, to Mount Kosciuszko in Australia; from Thomas Jefferson calling him "as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known," to an occasional salute from a certain blogger as he passes KoÅ›ciuszko's statue on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

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Why Are Glaciers Blue?
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The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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30 Cold, Hard Facts About Die Hard
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What do you get when you mix one part action movie with one part holiday flick and add in a dash of sweaty tank top? Die Hard, John McTiernan’s genre-bending Christmas action masterpiece for the ages, which sees a badass NYPD cop take on a skyscraper full of bad guys in the midst of an office holiday party. Here are 30 things you might not know about the movie.

1. IT’S GOT A LITERARY BACKGROUND.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. In 2013, Thorp’s long out-of-print book was resurrected to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE TOWERING INFERNO.

The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick, The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

3. FRANK SINATRA GOT FIRST DIBS ON PLAYING THE ROLE OF JOHN MCCLANE.


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Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

4. BRUCE WILLIS’ BIG-SCREEN DEBUT WAS WITH FRANK SINATRA.

In 1980, Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. He has no name and if you blink you’ll miss him, but the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it. Maybe it was kismet?

5. CLINT EASTWOOD PLANNED TO TAKE A STAB AT THE PART.

Originally, it was Clint Eastwood who owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, which he had planned to star in in the early 1980s. That obviously never happened.

6. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL TO COMMANDO.

This is one of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard. But according to Stephen de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, while there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea and Die Hard was never supposed to be anything but Die Hard.

7. BRUCE WILLIS WASN’T EVEN THE STUDIO’S THIRD CHOICE FOR THE ROLE.

If Die Hard was to be a success, the studio knew they needed a bona fide action star in the part, so they set about offering it to a seemingly never-ending list of A-listers of the time. Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane. And all declined it.

8. BRUCE WILLIS WAS CONSIDERED A COMEDIC ACTOR AT THE TIME.

Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis, of course. He just wasn’t an immediate choice for the role because, up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star. Following the success of the film, the action genre really became Willis’ bread and butter, and although he has two Emmys for his comedy work, it has remained as such to this day.

9. BRUCE WILLIS WAS BARELY EVEN SEEN ON THE MOVIE’S POSTERS.

Bruce Willis stars as John McClane in 'Die Hard.'
Twentieth Century Fox

Because the studio’s marketing gurus were unconvinced that audiences would pay to see an action movie starring the funny guy from Moonlighting, the original batch of posters for the film centered on Nakatomi Plaza instead of Willis’ mug. As the film gained steam, the marketing materials were altered, and Willis was more prominent in the promos.

10. WILLIS WAS PAID $5 MILLION TO MAKE THE MOVIE.

Even with all the uncertainly surrounding whether he could pull the film off, Willis was paid $5 million to make Die Hard, which was considered a rather hefty sum at the time—a figure reserved for only the top tier of Hollywood talents.

11. WILLIS SUGGESTED THAT BONNIE BEDELIA PLAY HIS WIFE.

Though we suspect that she wasn’t paid $5 million for the gig.

12.  BRUCE WILLIS WAS ABLE TO SAY YES THANKS TO A WELL-TIMED PREGNANCY.

The first few times Bruce Willis was asked to star in the movie, he had to say no because of his commitments to Moonlighting. Then costar Cybill Shepard announced that she was pregnant. Because her pregnancy wouldn’t work within the show, producer Glenn Caron gave everyone 11 weeks off, allowing Willis to say yes.

13. SAM NEILL WAS ORIGINALLY APPROACHED FOR THE PART OF HANS GRUBER.

But Neill ended up turning the film down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. DIE HARD WAS ALAN RICKMAN’S FEATURE FILM DEBUT.

Though Rickman may have played the part of Hans as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. JOHN MCTIERNAN TURNED THE MOVIE DOWN, TOO.

And not just once, but on a few different occasions. His reason was that the material just seemed too dark and cynical for him. “The original screenplay was a grim terrorist movie,” McTiernan told Empire magazine in 2014. “On my second week working on it, I said, 'Guys, there's no part of terrorism that's fun. Robbers are fun bad guys. Let's make this a date movie.’ And they had the courage to do it.”

16. MCTIERNAN SEES IT AS A SHAKESPEAREAN TALE.

In the original script, the action in Die Hard takes place over a three-day span, but McTiernan—inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—insisted that it be condensed into a single evening.

17. NAKATOMI PLAZA IS ACTUALLY FOX PLAZA.


Yes, the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox—the very studio making the movie—proved to be the perfect location for the movie’s much-needed Nakatomi Plaza. And as it was still under construction, there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to do to the space to make it movie-ready. The studio charged itself rent to use its own space.

18. THE ROOM WHERE THE HOSTAGES ARE BEING HELD IS LITERALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S FALLING WATER.

"In this period, Japanese corporations were buying America," production designer Jackson De Govia said in the Die Hard DVD audio commentary. "We posited that ... Nakatami Corporation bought Falling Water, disassembled it, and reassembled it in the atrium, like a trophy."

19. THAT PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE CITY BELOW? IT’S NOT REAL.

A 380-foot-long background painting provided the illusion of a breathtaking city view in the movie. And it was a state-of-the-art one, too, with animated lights, moving traffic, and the ability to change from night to day. The painting is still the property of the studio and has been used in other productions since.

20. THE FILM’S SUCCESS SPAWNED A BONA FIDE FRANCHISE.

In addition to its four sequels, Die Hard has spawned video games and comic books, too.

21. JOHN MCCLANE’S TUMBLE DOWN A VENTILATION SHAFT WAS AN ACCIDENT.

Or maybe “error” would be a better word. But in the scene in which McClane jumps into an elevator shaft, his stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent. But he missed. By a lot. Which made the footage even more exciting to watch, so editor Frank J. Urioste kept it in the final cut.

22. ALAN RICKMAN’S DEATH SCENE WAS ALSO PRETTY SCARY.

At least it was for Rickman. In order to make it look as if he was falling off a building, Rickman was supposed to drop 20 feet onto an air bag while holding onto a stunt man. But in order to get a genuinely terrified reaction out of him, they dropped him on the count of two—not three, as was planned.

23. BRUCE WILLIS SUFFERED PERMANENT HEARING LOSS.


Twentieth Century Fox

In order to get the hyper-realism that director John McTiernan was looking for, the blanks used in the guns in the movie were modified to be extra loud. In one scene, Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, which put the action star in extremely close proximity to the gun—and caused permanent hearing loss. He referenced the injury in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When they asked Willis his most unappealing habit, he replied that, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’”

24. ALAN RICKMAN WASN’T FOND OF THE NOISE EITHER.

Whenever he had to shoot a gun in the film, Rickman couldn’t help but flinch. Which forced McTiernan to have to cut away from him so that his reactions were not caught on film.

25. GRUBER’S AMERICAN ACCENT POSED NOTHING BUT PROBLEMS.

The scene in which Rickman, as Gruber, slips into an American accent and pretends to be yet another hostage who got away was insisted on by screenwriter Steven de Souza, who wanted them in a room together to duke it out. But McTiernan was never happy with Rickman’s American accent, saying, “I still hear Alan Rickman’s English accent. I was never quite happy with the way he opened his mouth [in that scene] ... I shot it three times trying to get him to sound more stridently American ... it’s odd for someone who has such enormous verbal skills; he just had terrible trouble getting an American accent.”

26. HANS GRUBER’S GERMAN IS MOSTLY GIBBERISH.

And the bulk of his German cohorts were not German either. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

27. BRUCE WILLIS HAS FOUR FEET.

As Willis spends much of the movie in his bare feet running through broken glass, he was given a pair of rubber feet to wear as a safety precaution. Which is great and all, but if you look closely in certain scenes, you can actually see the fake appendages.

28. YOU CAN SEE—BUT NOT TOUCH—JOHN MCCLANE’S SWEATY TANK TOP.


Getty Images

In 2007, donated the blood-soaked tank top he wore in Die Hard to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

29. “YIPPEE-KI-YAY” STOLE THE MOVIE.

It was a simple line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” But it became the film’s defining moment, and the unofficial catchphrase that has been used in all four Die Hard sequels as well.

30. CREDIT FOR THE LINE IS OWED TO WILLIS.

In a 2013 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Willis admitted that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” was really just a joke. “It was a throwaway,” said Willis. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."

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