The American Airmen Who Helped Defeat Russian Aggression 100 Years Ago

Posted on Friday, April 8, 2022
by AMAC Newsline

AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis

As the Ukrainians defend their homeland from a Russian invasion, they’re also defending something of great importance to Americans – the graves of three U.S. airmen who died defending neighboring Poland from similar Russian aggression more than 100 years ago. Their incredible story of selfless devotion and courage under fire is a testament to the indomitable American spirit and the bond that unites freedom-loving peoples around the world.

Many Western pundits have likened Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to those of former Soviet leaders determined to expand and protect the borders of the USSR. There is some merit to these comparisons – much like Vladimir Lenin sought to collapse the geopolitical structure forged in Eastern Europe after World War I by establishing the Soviet Union, Putin seeks to undermine the balance of power established after the end of the Cold War to re-constitute the USSR, or at least consolidate Russian influence over former Soviet territory. But just as Lenin’s Communist regime was resisted and ultimately brought down, Putin’s ambitions should be similarly thwarted.

Following World War I, Lenin was looking for any excuse to spread his Communist revolution to the rest of Europe. As Germany descended into chaos, Lenin thought he had a golden opportunity to bring the country under Russia’s influence. The only thing standing in the way was Poland, and a hastily-called up army of mostly ordinary civilians armed with swords and scythes.

Desperate for any help against overwhelming odds, the Poles called out for assistance from the world’s democracies. But with the West’s great powers weary from four long years of trench warfare, it appeared as if the Poles were on their own.

A few volunteers did, however, venture to Poland as the Red Army began its assault on the country. Among them were eight American airmen, who arrived fresh from France in late 1919. Flying old German Albatross D.III planes, they dubbed themselves the Kościuszko Squadron, named after the great Polish military engineer who helped lead the Continental Army to victory at the Battle of Saratoga during the Revolutionary War. To the Americans, their service was repaying the debt owed to Polish officers who had served with the Americans in the War for Independence.

The Poles, as one officer remarked, saw in the U.S. pilots a reflection of America’s inexhaustible energy; its optimism, its strength, its pride, along with a true spirit of freedom, democracy, and justice. The American pilots provided precious intelligence on the movement of the Red Army during the conflict, allowing the Polish army to evade ambush. Polish military instructors emphasized that the skills, bravery, and dedication of U.S. soldiers were exemplary. “American airmen, despite exhaustion, fight like crazy,” one reportedly said. “Without the help of American pilots, we would have been blown away long ago,” observed another Polish military reporter.

It was hardly an exaggeration, and even the Russian attackers began noticing the dogged determination and fighting spirit of the Americans. Bolshevik military reporter Isaac Babel confirmed that U.S. pilots were valiant and lionhearted champions of freedom. As he would report, stout-hearted American fighters flew so low that their wings clipped Bolshevik soldiers running before them, leaving the aggressors full of trepidation.

In truth, however, the Americans’ courage and bravery only matched that of the Poles they fought alongside. Backed into defensive positions around Warsaw, the Polish resistance seemed finished. But then, a bold Polish counterattack pushed the Russians away from the city and all the way back to the border, an event that would become known as the “Miracle on the Vistula.” Incredibly, inexplicably, the Polish army and Western volunteers defeated the Russians.

Three Americans who died on the battlefield are still buried in what today is Ukrainian territory – the same ground that Russian aggressors are again desperately trying to capture. Captain Arthur H. Kelly from Virginia, Captain T. V. McCallum from Michigan, and Corporal Edmund P. Graves from Massachusetts are commemorated with a magnificent monument at the “Cemetery of the Defenders of Lviv.”

With a spectacular burial ceremony that included caissons pulled by three pairs of horses each, a philharmonic orchestra, and a salute with a military flyover, thousands of grateful Poles bid farewell to the fallen Americans. The Polish President had decorated the three with the highest orders during the pre-funeral ceremony, with the participation of representatives from Poland’s highest authorities and foreign government delegations.

For Putin today, as it was for Lenin so many years ago, the expansion of Russian influence is the top priority. With the ostentatious support of the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church along with a chauvinistic nationalism, Putin has successfully sought to deceive the West that he is focused solely on Russia’s security. But Putin’s move on Ukraine is only the first stage in his plans to build another Evil Empire in Europe. As he has indicated in his essays and speeches, Putin seeks to de-Atlanticize Europe by collapsing the international political and financial institutions created after World War II and expanded during the Cold War. A multipolar world with the removal of U.S. influence from Europe is the only acceptable outcome for hardliners like Putin.

Just as in 1920 with the defense of Poland, fortifying Ukraine today against Russian aggression will be nearly impossible without the support it is receiving from more than eleven nations, including the United States. Alone, any nation in Europe stands little chance of standing up to the might of the Russian army. But through faith in God and the assistance from defenders of freedom abroad, the patriots in Ukraine may just achieve a miracle of their own.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.