Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The president's announcement came as a surprise to some members of his own staff as well as the guests.
He will support legislation that would provide long-sought benefits to the widow of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to be executed for desertion during World War II.
The crowd of more than 300 Polish-Americans gathered Monday night in the White House East Room burst into applause at Jimmy Carter's news.
The president said he had had a letter from a Polish-American society earlier as well as an appeal from Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, but that the attorney general's office had advised that he had no independent authority to approve benefits. So instead, he said he would support legislation to help Antoinette Slovik, 62, who is living under an assumed name in a Detroit nursing home.
Rep. Charles B Rangel (D-N.Y.) introduced the bill some time ago that would provide Mrs. Slovik with an amount equal to proceeds of a National Service Life Insurance policy on her husband which, including interest, would total about $70,000 today.
The White House called the president's decision one that in no way condoned the act of desertion but rather was a "response to the unique nature of the situation and to Mrs. Slovik's personal plight."
She had spent three decades seeking insurance benefits, and last spring rode 16 hours by bus to personally take her appeal to President Carter but was never able to see him.
Slovik, executed on Jan. 31, 1945, by firing squad in France, was one of 40,000 World War II deserters but the only one executed of 49 sentenced to death.
Rangel was not among the reception guests, but when reached by telephone at his home Monday night said that he first learned of Carter's decision around 4:30 p.m. After that he had been trying to reach Mrs. Slovik --"We have been in touch with her lawyers."
Leaders of the country's estimated 12-15 million Polish-Americans arrived from around the country after receiving invitations a week ago from the Carters to come hear a report on the president's December trip to Poland. The president with Mrs. Carter and National Security Council Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski received the guests, then joined them later with Vice President Walter Mondale in the East Room.
Among the crowd was one person whom Carter said had the "most effect on my life," Polish-born Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.
"He's impressionable," Rickover said later of his former student. "In the nuclear program, all he got out of me was working harder. I asked him if he'd done the best he could and he admitted he hadn't."
Rickover said that Carter, however, must be "smarter than I am -- he must have worked harder than I did because look where he ended up."
Others in the crows included former baseball great Stan Musial, Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda and pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski of Philadelphia.
The snow storm slowed Horszowski's arrival as it did several members of Congress coming from the Hill. But the pianist turned up in ample time to entertain the crowd with selections from Chopin. By 8 p.m., an hour after the party was scheduled to end, two late arrivals from San Antonio turned up to join a crowd that gave no sign of leaving.