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HONORING A GREAT AMERICAN HERO AT GABRESKI AIRPORT. After laying a wreath on the memorial stone in honor of U.S. Air Ace Francis S. Gabreski, Polish American Congress committee members and guests pause and reflect on his accomplishments. Shown here are: Col. Gabreskiís daughters, Frances and Patricia. In rear (left to right) are: Frank Milewski, president of the PACís Downstate N.Y. Division, Richard Romanski, committee chairman; Hon. Conrad Teller, mayor of Westhampton Beach and Chet Szarejko, co-chairman.

Westhampton, N.Y. February 2, 2012. The Downstate New York Division of the Polish American Congress marked the 10th anniversary of the January 31, 2002 death of Col. Francis S. Gabreski with a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial stone in the Long Island airport named after him.

Col. Gabreski was stationed at Pearl Harbor the day of Japanís sneak attack. He served in the Air Corps for the remainder of the war after his transfer from the Pacific to the European Theatre where he eventually became Americaís top air ace. Operating the P-47 Thunderbolt, he shot down 28 German planes and destroyed another 3 on the ground.

During the Korean War that followed, he downed another 6 enemy aircraft and was given half-credit on the 7th.

When Col. Gabreski resumed civilian life, he came to New Yorkís Long Island and was closely identified with it thereafter. He was an executive at Grumman Aerospace and was later appointed president of the Long Island Railroad.

The son of Polish immigrants who settled in Oil City, PA, he loved what America represented and was drawn to the concept of serving in the military forces of his familyís adopted country.

But there was another force that also drove him. Two years before the Pearl Harbor attack, Nazi Germany launched a new and cruel kind of modern war which made men, women and children as much a military target as anything else. And the first victim of this barbaric evil was Poland, the country where his family once lived..

"The Colonel never forgot his Polish roots," said Richard Romanski who headed the Gabreski Memorial Committee.

Romanskiís co-chairman, Chet Szarejko, first met Col. Gabreski when the Congress celebrated Gabreskiís birthday the year before he died and noted that "Gabby" was a devout Catholic "who looked death squarely in the eye" every time he took his P-47 up in the sky to meet the Germans head-on.

"It must have been his religious beliefs that gave him this amazing courage to accomplish all he did in face of such risk," said Szarejko.

Frank Milewski
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