A Polish patriot, statesman and accomplished musician, Paderewski was the largest individual donor to The American Legion Endowment Fund for the Disabled and Orphans of Veterans before receiving the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal in 1926.

The pianist and composer donated $28,600 to the fund - "income from four concerts, which of his own volition he gave in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston," National Commander John McQuigg wrote in a letter to the National Executive Committee. "The Legion owes Mr. Paderewski a great debt for his unselfish service to our organization."

Paderewski shared his talents with both his nation and the world, including audiences at more than 1,500 performances in the United States in the early 1900s. His love for America was so great that he temporarily settled in California before the start of World War I. During the war, he was a member of the Polish National Committee in Paris. He later entered politics, serving as Polish prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. But many of his supporters defected, so he resigned the posts by the end of 1919, after less than a year in office.

He visited Switzerland for a time, and in 1940 headed the Polish National Council, a parliament in exile in London. He restarted his Polish Relief Fund and gave benefit concerts to support it.

During one U.S. stop in 1941, Paderewski contracted pneumonia and died two days later in New York City, at 80. Biographer Wanda Wilk writes, "By presidential decree (an action taken only once before in U.S. history), he was buried at Arlington .... He was laid to rest under the mast of the battleship Maine until his body could be transported to a free Poland for burial," in 1992. Paderewski, who once declared America "the country of my heart, my second home," has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his heart is encased in a bronze sculpture in Doylestown, Pa.

For more on Paderewski, click here (http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/composer/paderewski.html).


View more Distinguished Service Medal recipients