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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I’m officially red-white-and-blue!

Today, I took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States along with 183 other immigrants from Mexico, Bosnia, Vietnam, Tonga, Venezuela (of course), and everything in between and all over.

I felt "detached" for most of the pre-ceremony, sort of in denial about it finally happening after 25 FREAKING YEARS!

I was required to show up an hour early to in-process which included taking my green card away. That's the only card I've ever had that said I had a right to stay in this country and now they wanted me to surrender it . Even though I knew I was trading it in for citizenship, I felt uneasy. Not having that card in my possession made me nervous.

I was given a packet containing information on how to apply for a passport, requirements for traveling overseas, and a booklet containing information about U.S. history and government. I read through those as I sat in the theater waiting for the ceremony to begin.

The ceremony itself was basically what I imagined (except I hadn't anticipated sitting next to a bilingual chatterbox). Mid-ceremony, I realized what a special part of my history this is and how I've taken my personal history for granted. The story of an immigrant sacrificing to come to this country and pave a way for her posterity was the story my descendants would one day tell about me. I felt like I was graduating.

At one point, the presiding judge named some of the countries being represented in the room and asked for volunteers to speak briefly in regards to their feelings about becoming U.S. citizens. I thought about talking myself out of volunteering, but I knew I'd regret it later if I didn't speak what I felt, even if I had to say it betwixt tears.

"My name is Adhis and I am from Venezuela. I have been an American for a long long time. I have been American in my heart, in my soul, in my actions, in my duties and in my loyalties. And finally today, I am officially and on paper an American."

The ceremony concluded with a video from President George W. Bush welcoming new citizens and then a video montage set to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA". Cheesy, yes. Tear-jerker, still.

"And I wont forget the men who died, who gave that right to me."

My mind returned to Dan's sacrifice in the name of defending freedom and I felt particularly thankful that my friend died to secure for me that blessed right. Always will Memorial Day, Dan Eggers and my U.S. citizenship be entwined.

Afterwards, I returned to the desk where I had turned in my green card to pick up my certificate of citizenship. I sighed as I noticed it had attached one of the many unflattering photos I have had taken in my immigration process, but then I relinquished my vanity and smiled at my certificate. On the way out, I was given a voter registration form before looking for my family in the lobby.

There I was met by a perfectly cliché-looking crew: a doting husband, a very pregnant sister and her darling 1-year-old, my mother wearing a U.S. flag pendant with flashing lights, and my father wearing a suit and a tie featuring the U.S. flag and the Statue of Liberty. Tons of grins all the way around.

Now, I sit reflecting on the day with a belly full of food from the local Venezuelan restaurant, looking at that silly photo of me saluting. Tomorrow, I will wake up to another day like yesterday. I will still have to brush my teeth, wash the dishes, and feed the dog. And I will do it happily in a country where I have the freedom to choose a mundane life.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Blues

I'm surprised every time it hits me.

One year, it was in the middle of church during a Sunday School lesson. At another time, it was in the middle of the day when I was alone in a hotel room flipping channels. This year, it was as I lay hovering between wake and sleep last night.

I suddenly started crying, loud and wet. And I was confused as to why I was doing so in the first place. Only a few seconds later did the answer come. It hit me that it was Memorial Day weekend, the anniversary of the death of an old friend and rival.

Capt. Daniel William Eggers died supporting Operation Enduring Freedom on May 29, 2004 in Kandahar, Afghanistan when his vehicle hit a land mine. Killed with him were Sgt 1st Class Sgt. Robert J. Mogensen and Pfc Joseph A. Jeffries.

I've known Dan since 8th grade and got to know him best when we both enrolled in our high school's Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (Army JROTC). We were competitive in JROTC, sometimes friendly, sometimes not.

Through the years, we rose through the cadet ranks equally, and senior year, Dan became Battalion Commander (BN CO) and I Battalion Executive Officer (BN XO). Or in other words, Dan was first in command and I was second. Did that bug me? Heck yeah! But not as much as if I had been second in command to anyone else. Even as a teenager, I recognized Dan as a great leader full of grace and duty.

Dan was also a great teaser. He knew just how to push my buttons to get a reaction out of me. I'd fume and scowl at times until he just couldn't help but laugh. And I knew I'd been had. Again.

I learned of his death on Monday, May 31, 2004, the day of the US Department of Defense News Release, two days after Dan had passed. What a day of disbelief! I searched everywhere for information to verify this news because the DoD just wasn't "good enough." I searched for reports with photos just to make sure there weren't TWO Daniel William Eggers, age 28 from Cape Coral, Florida. I contacted mutual friends searching for the one that would say "oh, it's not true, just a rumor." My search only proved the rumor true.

As long as I've known Dan, he has always been determined to serve in the Army as an elite member. If it was worth doing, it was worth doing to the top. He risked his life doing what he loved and what he always felt was his mission: to serve God and Country.

His life and his death fuel my desire to live a rich and fulfilling life.

Still, it takes courage to say goodbye. Every time.

2 Timothy 4:7

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

(scripture on Dan's headstone)