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General Edward Rowny: A Fighter and Strategist with a Harmonica

Ed Rowny at IWP Commencement 2

General Edward Równy:
A Fighter and Strategist with a Harmonica

A few months ago, I gave a keynote speech to celebrate General Rowny’s 100th birthday. His achievements fill volumes and could accommodate with high distinction the lives of a dozen individuals. In fact, I bring up General Rowny routinely in all of my classes.

I teach a class on “Geography and Strategy” but I should rename it “Gen. Rowny in Action,” in particular as it pertains to the military component of the seminar. Mopping up western Italy in 1944 and 1945? He commanded a battalion. Amphibious landing Inchon in 1950? He was the XO of General Douglas MacArthur: “Rowny, pick a spot, and I don’t care what it is so long as it is Inchon!” Vietnam? He conceptualized U.S. Air Cavalry which he codenamed the Pulaski Legion to commemorate the Polish-born founder of American mounted fighters during the War for Independence. In other words, the General was Mel Gibson’s CO in “We Were Soldiers Once.”

In “Mass Murder Prevention,” I show that fighting against the Nazis and Communists is a great way to save lives. Likewise, in “Russian Politics and Foreign Policy,” I bring up Ed Rowny’s achievements both on the military and the diplomatic fields as far as defeating the Soviet Union.

In “Contemporary Politics and Diplomacy,” I stress the General’s contributions to monitoring Soviet compliance with nuclear disarmament treaties. He quit on principle when the détentists at the State Department challenged his assertion that the Soviets had been cheating. He experienced petty bureaucratic chicanery for speaking truth to power, but then a phone call came: “General Rowny? This is Governor Ronald Reagan. I hear you know everything about Soviet nukes. I’d like you to be on my presidential team.” The answer came swiftly: “Governor, as a lifelong Democrat, I accept.” President Reagan appointed General Rowny as his ambassador for disarmament talks with the Soviets in Switzerland. For the first time, the Kremlin felt the steely resolve of the General off the battlefield. There was no more cheating.

Incidentally, Ed Rowny brought his wife Rita along. She stayed in the background as she was battling cancer. However, if Mrs. Rowny was not feeling well, she would whistle from the back rooms, and Ed would interrupt whatever he was doing, whether entertaining and negotiating, and he’d rush to her side immediately.

Family was of course the center and the foundation of his life, his late wife Rita and his second, surviving spouse Elizabeth, as well as his three children. Yet, arguably, no one shaped him more than his multilingual American Polish grandmother, Adamina Radziszewska, who brought him up in his native Baltimore, MD. She instilled the love of history in him, stressing the contributions of Thaddeus Kościuszko and Casimir Pulaski to America’s freedom. On the cultural level, the grandmother’s hero was the fabulous pianist Ignacy Paderewski. Subsequently, Ed became the last guardian of “Paddy’s” last will and testament when he escorted the body of the famous musician from Arlington back to Poland once it became free after 1989.

Ed Rowny at IWP Commencement

Above: General Równy received a Doctorate of Laws Honoris Causa at IWP Commencement in 2014.

Ed Rowny never did become a pianist. However, as a champion paper delivery boy, he received a bonus: free harmonica lessons and the instrument itself. He carried one with him all the time and cheered everyone up with his impromptu concertos, including startled Soviet diplomats. He played for us at IWP as well. In fact, Ed performed on his harmonica so well, we had no choice but to award him a Doctorate of Laws Honoris Causa for all his achievements (although, sadly, the laudatory speech failed to mention diplomacy by harmonica as one of his skills).

The General was a friend and a mentor, as well as an occasional guest lecturer. He would come for a seminar, visit, or function, albeit with decreasing frequency over the years. However, his wheelchair dependency and blindness notwithstanding, Ed Rowny never missed his most favorite outing: Every April, he welcomed the West Point cadets of the Kościuszko Club at IWP. He would regale them with stories, and they shivered with respect. There were also plenty of anecdotes. “What? You don’t know how to pronounce Kościuszko? Drop down and give me a hundred.” That was Ed’s own recollection from his plebe days at West Point.

Kosciuszko Cadets, 2017

Above: General Równy and the West Point Kościuszko Squadron, Spring 2017.

The General’s road to the Military Academy led via a detour through Europe. First, he attended an engineering high school in Baltimore, and then he enrolled in the same field at Johns Hopkins University. Soon, he won a scholarship from the Kościuszko Foundation, which enabled him to study at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow in 1935-36.

During that summer, Ed traveled to Berlin to watch the Olympics, where he witnessed Hitler and his Nazis in action. The young engineering student anticipated that a major war was coming. He promptly packed, returned home, and reported at West Point, graduating in 1941. Soon, he saw combat in Europe and Asia. Ed did not dodge bullets. Just to list his decorations and stories behind them would take up a monograph. Then he switched to policymaking at the strategic level, including his service in diplomacy. In this capacity, Ed worked for five U.S. presidents.

The General spent his entire life serving the United States, including well beyond his retirement in 1990.  But Poland remained dear and near to his life. It was his hobby and his obligation. Among other things, he was instrumental in lobbying for Poland’s membership in NATO. His vision extended to the future generations because one of his endeavors involved the Paderewski Fund: a scholarship program for Poles, Polish Americans, and others who wanted to study in the United States. More than a few interns have come to IWP thanks to Ed Rowny’s generosity via the Paderewski Fund.

The kids, if they want, will remain the General’s legacy forever. He has been a part of me for a long time and will remain so until I am no more. I know he is now free and happy with his Maker. But I am selfishly sorry I will not see him here again. I’m sorry I can wheel him out no more as a living witness to all the crazy stories I tell about him to my incredulous students to shock, teach, and inspire them to serve with such distinction, honor, and dedication as Lieutenant General Edward Rowny did.

Army strong.


Kosciuszko Cadets, 2014

Above: General Równy and the West Point Kościuszko Squadron and with Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz, Spring 2014.