Friday, June 3, 2016

Naturalization Ceremony welcomes 22 new citizens - By Michelle Libby

On Friday morning, 22 people from 17 countries recited an oath and became US citizens at the Windham Veterans Center in a ceremony that was described as very personal by attendees. The American Legion Auxiliary Unit 148 hosted the event bringing Immigration Services Officer from United States Customs and Immigration Services Kurt Pelletier, Senator Susan Collins and the ceremony to Windham.

“She likes to be an American. It’s a peaceful place. She’s a victim of war and that’s why she fears it,” said Hassan Adan, a friend and community member of new citizen Saadio Alikaf from Somalia. 

Aileen Pelletier, a member of the auxiliary and Kurt’s wife, suggested that the young auxiliary unit host a Naturalization Ceremony. President Pam Whynot worked tirelessly to coordinate with Sen. Collins office and Kurt as well as the other speakers to make the event special for the candidates.
“I always wanted to live here. It was just a matter of time,” said Irina Sullivan from Kazakhstan. The first thing she will do with her citizenship is vote in November, she said. 

Nothing beat listening to the stories of the new citizens, Whynot said. The ceremony began at 10 a.m., but all of the candidates were there by 9:10 a.m. giving plenty of time for socialization and pictures. “To see them come so early because they’re so excited is amazing,” she added. 

Yong Lu from China wants to live here. “My family is here,” he said. He also can’t wait to vote in the next election. 

The day was about connections, which helped to make the event so special. Each candidate brought
Kurt’s son Devin was given an appointment to the Air Force Academy by Sen. Collins, who was speaking and Kurt was flying out the following morning to Devin’s graduation. When he told the story, there were very few dry eyes in the building. 

“If it wasn’t for Senator Collins, my son wouldn’t be where he is today,” Kurt said. 

Colonel Bob Atkins, USMC. Ret. gave the welcoming remarks. The new citizens can now “practice the religion you want, have a free press and write a letter to the editor. You have the right to send a grievance to Senator Collins, right to bear arms and the right to refuse the military from taking up residence in your home. These freedoms are not free,” he said. He read a poem by Kelly Strong titled “Freedom is not Free” written when she was a senior in high school. 
“I thought, how many men like him
Had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?

How many Pilots' planes shot down?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, Freedom is not free.”

Poem affected everyone. 

“Pick out something that you can do to make this a better place. Congratulations and welcome home,” he told the group gathered. 

Senator Collins, who received a standing ovation when she entered the veteran’s center, gave a passionate speech about how precious citizenship is. 
“For those who yearn to breathe free, our freedom has been purchased at the greatest possible cost,” she said. She told the audience that they need to know how precious our birthright is. She also encouraged volunteerism and to do “great acts of selflessness.” The gathering was kept spellbound by her words. 

“It is this philosophy of self-governance that has stood the test of time,” Sen. Collins said. “To be an American by birth or by choice, be proud of your heritage and of your future.” 

Anne Libby also read an essay she wrote as a part of the VFW Voice of Democracy contest. She spoke about how one little action can affect someone’s life profoundly and that it is the citizens who will band together to create change and that it’s not country of birth that binds us, but by the country we call home.

The Windham Primary School third grade chorus sang four selections including God Bless the USA.
“This is the best part of my job,” said Kurt. He told the group that “America is your adopted country,” and that each candidate met the requirements to be citizens and was found to have good moral character. 
The new citizens were from all over the world, Egypt, Estonia, Jamaica, Congo, New Zealand, Turkey and many more. 

“They were so excited to be a citizen,” said Whynot.  

The auxiliary unit is looking forward to hosting another Naturalization Ceremony.

I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze
A young Marine saluted it, and then
He stood at ease.

I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud
With hair cut square and eyes alert
He'd stand out in any crowd.

I thought, how many men like him
Had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?

How many Pilots' planes shot down?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, Freedom is not free.

I heard the sound of taps one night,
When everything was still.
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.

I wondered just how many times
That taps had meant "Amen"
When a flag had draped a coffin
of a brother or a friend.

I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.

I thought about a graveyard
at the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, Freedom isn't free!!
Copyright 1981 by Kelly Strong

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