Why Wally’s son pledges allegiance
JOE Ptak made a splash in 2010 by daring to ask why people were not saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of a political debate in Illinois sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
The stuffy moderator's answer was because she said so. Patriotism is unfashionable in certain circles.
She admonished the crowd to behave and not pledge their allegiance to the flag.
Being adults and not schoolchildren, the grownups went ahead and said the pledge because they love their country.
I wrote a column about this remarkable story and over the years, Ptak has corresponded with me.
His most recent missive was about his father's death.
Joe's obituary for Wladyslaw "Wally" Ptak, 83, explained how Joe became half-Polish, half-Peruvian — and all-American.
"In 1942 the Nazis took him from his home to a work camp in France," Joe wrote.
"He was a 13-year-old little boy. He never saw his father again, and the mother he cherished so much had already died when he was 10 years old.
"In 1944 he, along with his friend escaped, they became partisans; they lied about their age, and then they joined the Polish Army.
"He served and fought in Italy, under a British command. He was not able to return to his hometown of Pilica until 30 years later in 1972, accompanied by my Peruvian mother."
After the war, Wally couldn't go home. Communists had taken over Poland.
"My father boarded a refugee workboat for single males and sailed to Peru," Joe wrote.
"There, God finally blessed him with his soul-mate for life — my mother, Emma Rosa Ptak. My father traveled thousands of miles from his hometown, before finding his 'Angel on Earth.'
"They are members of the Greatest Generation, and their story together had just begun. God planned for them to have a large family, with all of them becoming Americans, and he then set them on that course."
What an amazing man and what an amazing journey.
From John III Sobieski to Casimir Pulaski to Wally Ptak, Poles over the centuries have courageously fought for freedom only to enjoy little of it in their homeland.
Americans like to tell themselves that grandpa saved the world and replaced a dictatorship with freedom. It's true, and we should honor the sacrifices made by Americans long ago.
But that's only half the story.
The other half are the Europeans and Filipinos and other allies who fought for freedom, including boys like Wally Ptak, who escaped Nazism, returned to fight it, and then could not go home because another cruel dictator — in some ways more cruel — had taken over his homeland.
Poland's liberation came 45 years after Wally Ptak's war ended.
A Polish pope and a Polish dockworker named Lech Walesa helped make that so — with the aid of President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
America is better for the Wally Ptaks who obey the law and enter the nation legally.
We are also better for the Joe Ptaks they raise, and who grow up to be men and women who stand up to petty little people who try to bully others into conformity.
Joe knows the price his father paid for freedom and the obligation to honor his father's sacrifice.
Think about Wally Ptak the next time you pledge allegiance.
Surber's email is email@example.com.