In January this year, at the age of 100, one of the last Cichociemny of the Armia Krajowa (“Silent and Unseen” division of the Polish Home Army), General Stefan Starba-Bulak died. Every GROM operator wanted to be at the funeral. Cichociemni – soldiers, partisans, paratroopers, trained in Scotland, sent to fight for the underground army in occupied Poland during the World War II are our patrons and the lives of people like General Starba will always be a source of inspiration for all of us.

Our close friend is gone – this is how GROM operators described his loss. A few dozens of GROM soldiers accompanied him in this last journey at the Warsaw Military Cemetary. Each of them placed a white rose on his tomb. For us, “Starba” was not only a role model, but also a friend. We wouldn’t miss his funeral for the world.

General Stefan Baluk (pseudonym “Starba”, “Michal Balucki”, “Kubus”, “Michal Zawistowski”) was born on 15 January 1914 in Warsaw. His legend started one April night in 1944, when he and some other trained volunteers jumped off a plane into the occupied Poland. After getting through to the capital, he worked for the underground government – Legislation Department at the Home Army HQ. He was responsible for falsifying documents and intelligence.

During the Warsaw Uprising (August 1944), he fought in the platoon “Agaton” that was part of the battalion “Pięść” (“Fist”) and further on in the Shield Division at the Home Army Headquarters. For his sacrifice for Poland he was awarded the highest Polish military decoration – War Order of Virtutti Militari Class V.

According to the Communist Doctrine, it was the People’s Army – communist partisan army – that fought for independence alongside the Soviet Red Army, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting in the West were erased for many years from history books. However, the stories of the elite paratroopers deployed to Poland in total secrecy with limited chances of survival to fight for their country were so outstanding and deep-rooted in Polish minds that the communist propaganda couldn’t hide it completely, and since my school days the people whose life motto was “Tobie Ojczyzno” (“For Thee, my country”) have always been my heroes.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1998, when I stood in front of a big, green metal gate of the first Polish Special Forces unit, that I finally had a chance to get to know more about them. At that time, except for some rumors, I hardly knew anything about GROM or its patrons – Cichociemni – only the very limited information I was taught at a communist school. A year later, on the anniversary party of the unit on June 13, the Cichociemni paratroopers were the guests of honor.

General Slavomir Petelicki, then the chief of GROM, made sure each and every of them had a GROM soldier taking care of them. This is how I came face to face with people whose lives made James Bond look like an average Joe. Their cheerful disposition was a huge surprise. With such a war baggage behind them, I had a right to expect very serious, down-to-earth, introverted people, yet they were all jolly old men, drinking beer, smiling and sharing their war stories with us.

And they all had a very simple yet important message for us – their generation suffered a great deal, but each of them wanted for us to enjoy life and cease every day, especially now, in the independent Poland, and remember about those who gave us peace. For us, GROM soldiers, it has always been obvious that peace is never given once and forever. That is why we are trained as if every day was a day of our greatest combat test.