The Veterans Memorial in the center of Suffield includes the names of at least twenty men of Polish descent who served in the United States Army during World War I. Some of those men were foreign-born Poles who had emigrated from the land that Austria, Germany, and Russia partitioned in 1795. Only a few had become American citizens by the time The Great War started. Some others listed on the memorial were first-generation Polish Americans born to immigrants who had come to America around the turn of the 20th century. Information about these men is complicated to find, so it is difficult to know if they were citizens or not and if they volunteered or were drafted into service. One can only guess what may have motivated these men to serve our country.
Felix Zera was one of the men born in Poland. Records show he was born in about 1887. He immigrated to the US in 1906 and was a naturalized citizen by the time he registered for the WWI draft in June 1917. At about 30 years old, Felix’s perspective would probably have been more mature than many. He might have been one of many Polish immigrants in US military service eager to prove his loyalty to his new home country and dispel anti-immigrant sentiment.
Anthony and Frank Kulas were citizens by birth, born in Connecticut to Joseph and Valeria Kulas, who immigrated in about 1890. The boys’ parents demonstrated their intention to stay in the US by earning citizenship. (Joseph was naturalized in 1902, and Valerie before the 1920 census.) They may have instilled in their children a sincere desire to see their motherland regain its independence from Austria and Germany. They would have supported the efforts of the Allied Powers to defeat the Central Powers. After the war, Anthony expressed his motivation to serve by writing, “I knew it was my duty so dint [sic] wait to be drafted but enlisted, as every real American did.”
For some foreign-born men, military service provided a path to citizenship. In May 1918, Congress granted the opportunity to hasten the naturalization process. Servicemen were exempt from several requirements of citizenship, including five years of residence in the US, with proof of enlistment and two endorsements.
The Polish Heritage Society welcomes all information about any Suffield servicemember of Polish descent in any war. Polish veterans will be the topic of discussion at our next meeting. Please join us on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 10 a.m. in the Suffield Ambulance Center or contact email@example.com.