just another star in the sky (littlestarletta) wrote in ontd_political,
just another star in the sky

If he was a USC, why a second ceremony?

Immigrant fights for new country, then for right to belong to it

He will stand and raise his right hand and repeat the oath that has been uttered by aspiring Americans since the spring day when it was first given, in 1778, at Valley Forge.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince ..."

James Patrick O'Donnell said he can't quite believe the moment is finally here.

He will be able to call himself an American, to get a passport, to know this land he loves is truly his own.

"It's a lifelong dream," said O'Donnell, which, in his case, means more than it does for most.

O'Donnell moved to this country in 1926.

When he finishes his oath of allegiance this morning, America's newest citizen will be 87 years old.


It is the quintessential American story, a story of hope and service, of hardship and perseverance, of war and patriotism and -- OK, this is part of it, too -- a bureaucratic screwup.

James O'Donnell was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1922. He came to America with his parents, his two brothers and his four sisters. Another sister was born after they arrived.

"I was 4," O'Donnell said. "I don't remember much about the trip."

He remembers a large boat. He remembers throwing chunks of coal at sharks.

He remembers a train to Chicago, and he remembers his dad was able to find work and buy a house, and he remembers all that changed when the Depression hit.

"We lost the house," he said. "We moved a lot of times after that."

In 1942, he was drafted. He served in Europe until 1946.

He was at the Battle of the Bulge, and he won a Bronze Battle Star, and he doesn't think you should be too impressed.

"I'm no hero," he said.

But were you shot at?

"Yeah," he said. "But they missed."

So he came home. He found a job as a machinist in New York. And in 1987, when he finally retired, a nephew -- O'Donnell never married -- invited him to go on a cruise.

O'Donnell thought that was a grand idea. The last time he had been on a boat, he was returning from the war.

He applied for his first passport.

"They told me they needed to see my papers," O'Donnell said. "I gave them my discharge papers. They said that wasn't enough. Then they came back and said I wasn't a citizen."

O'Donnell was as surprised as anyone. He sure felt like an American when he was fighting in Europe, when he was living through the Depression, when he was proudly casting his presidential ballot -- yes, he voted -- for another Irishman, John F. Kennedy.

He even remembered being sworn in. Just a few days before he and his company shipped out.

"I was told to report to the barracks to become a citizen," O'Donnell said. "They put us through the pledge and then they told us to go back to our companies."

But somebody misplaced something. Or O'Donnell forgot to sign a form. Or the papers were lost during the decades. Whatever. In the eyes of the United States government, O'Donnell had never been an American.

"They said I was an incomplete," he said. "I had fallen through the cracks."

At first, O'Donnell didn't figure it was any big deal.

"But you can't believe how hard it has been to get this corrected," he said. "You talk to people and they tell you they'll get back to you. But they never get back to you.

"I had nearly given up."

O'Donnell moved to Beebe, Ark., to care for his ailing sister. When she died, he was the only one of the eight O'Donnell kids left.

He decided to try one last time. He contacted Kimberly Williams in the Immigration Service's Memphis office.

"She told me I was entitled to be a citizen because I'm a veteran," O'Donnell said. "Well, I knew that. But she took care of it. She took me through it step by step."

Today, in a special ceremony, O'Donnell will say the oath of allegiance a second time. He'll swear to support and defend the Constitution. To bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.

For some newcomers, these might sound like idle promises. O'Donnell has been there and done that.

So now he gets to call himself an American.

"It's about time," he cracked.

Care to guess how he's going to celebrate?

That's right: A cruise.

Tags: immigration
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