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100 years ago in Poland: Spokane-area ‘soldier of fortune’ becomes brigadier general of foreign army

Young Sweeney put in three years at West Point and then embarked on a life as a “soldier of fortune.”  (SR archives)
Young Sweeney put in three years at West Point and then embarked on a life as a “soldier of fortune.” (SR archives)
By Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

A Spokane-area soldier, Charles Sweeney (sometimes spelled Sweeny), was promoted to brigadier general – of the Polish army.

Gen. Sweeney’s path from Spokane to Poland was filled with gallantry and adventure. His father was a mining man who accumulated wealth in the Coeur d’Alene mining district.

Young Sweeney put in three years at West Point and embarked on a life as a “soldier of fortune.” He fought in conflicts in Mexico, and in revolutions in South America and Central America.

When World War I began, he went to France as private in the Foreign Legion. According to an Associated Press story, he was granted a battlefield commission as a lieutenant for “conspicuous gallantry.”

He was later gassed and severely wounded. While he recovered in a Paris hospital, he was “awarded the cross of the legion of honor.” He was promoted to captain in the French army.

When the U.S. entered the war, he returned home and was commissioned as a major in the U.S. Army. He helped train the 80th Division.

He went to Europe with his division and “got badly shot up” in the Argonne. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and assigned to the general staff of the American Expeditionary Forces.

When the war ended, Sweeney (of Irish and Polish descent) learned that Poland was in need of officers.

He returned to the U.S. and recruited 200 former American officers to serve in the Polish army. He sailed back to Poland with them and fought in battles against the Russian Bolsheviks.

He was then promoted by the Poles to brigadier general “for his splendid services.”

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