SAVANNAH, Ga. - With a horse-drawn caisson pulling the casket, burial rites read by a Polish bishop and a 21-gun salute from Army soldier, Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski received a hero's funeral Sunday on the 226th anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle in which he was slain.
The Polish nobleman regarded as the father of the American cavalry was buried with military honors beneath the 54-foot Pulaski monument in Monterey Square. The bones were exhumed by the local coroner in 1996 in hopes that DNA tests would prove they were Pulaski's remains.
Inconclusive results failed to settle a long-standing debate over whether Pulaski was buried at sea or in a secret grave to protect his remains from desecration. The unsolved mystery did not halt the funeral.
"Certainly from a historical standing it was overdue," said Francis X. Hayes, the Savannah businessman who organized the burial. "His remains were just unceremoniously sealed up in the monument. This gave him the kind of ceremony he would have received had he been in Poland."
More than 700 people filled Cathedral of St. John the Baptist for a memorial Mass to Pulaski. Among them were Polish Undersecretary of State Andrzej Majkowski and Janusz Reiter, Poland's ambassador to the United States.
A regiment of Polish cavalrymen on horseback escorted Pulaski's casket in a procession through the streets of Georgia's oldest city, founded in 1733, followed by a riderless horse with empty boots in the stirrups.
Polish Bishop Tadeusz Pwoski read funeral rites beneath the marble obelisk built to Pulaski in 1854, sprinkling the flag-draped casket with holy water and dirt from the grave site.
"Pulaski symbolizes the best tradition of the Polish-U.S. relations, and we have to keep that alive," Mr. Reiter said.
He also said it doesn't matter that the remains were never proven to be Pulaski's.
"This is considered by most people in Poland to be absolutely irrelevant," he said. "The opinion of the experts is divided.
"This is a question of whether you believe or don't believe."
Pulaski remains a hero in Poland and among Polish-Americans for his sacrifice to American independence. He came to America in 1777, exiled from Poland after helping lead an uprising against Russian incursion. Recommended by George Washington, he took command of the Colonial cavalry.
After his legion of 600 troops helped fight off the British at Charleston, S.C., Pulaski headed to Savannah for the ill-fated battle to reclaim the captured city. He fell mortally wounded by grapeshot from a British cannon Oct. 9, 1779.
Sunday's burial drew members of 102 Polish-American organizations from across the United States, who formed a parade behind the funeral procession.
"I'm a historian and I'm Polish, so this is something you've got to see," said Ben Stefanski, the president of the Polish-American Cultural Center in Cleveland.