The Refugee at My Corner


I set out for a walk the other day, and as I approached the corner the Q bus stopped just across the street from its usual stop.

As the bus pulled away and I reached the corner, there was a woman standing on the street – not on the sidewalk, but in the street where apparently she had just gotten off the bus.  She waved to me as if asking for directions or help, so I approached her.

Right away it became obvious there would be a language problem as it seemed the only two words she used in pleading with me were “block” and “central.” 

We walked back to the sidewalk and I tried to understand her dilemma and possibly help her. She kept saying those two words – ‘block’ and ‘central.’

Then she started asking about a B bus and seemed to want to find a B bus. So slowly, and with much gesturing we started a bit of communication. Using hand gestures and pointing back and forth to the street we had just came off of, and the street where the bus dropped he off on its way away from downtown New Haven, then gesturing up and down towards the street we were walking down, Central Ave, and then pointing down Central to the next street and gesturing left and right, I then started saying to her “block .. .block … block. ”  Slowly, and mainly by gestures we began to communicate. I asked her, again by gestures, where was she from, what was her country … Syria she said.  And after pointing to myself and saying ‘Don’ she looked at me and with a bit of a smile and a hand pointing to herself said ‘Lenna.’ I asked about family, and with her hands sweeping about waist high in a gesture she held up the fingers of one hand and said ‘five.’ 

Pointing to myself again and saying ‘72’ she then held up three fingers on each hand and pointed back at herself … she was thirty three years old and the mother of five.

By then we had walked several blocks down Central to where the B bus stopped and she seemed to be a little bit more comfortable.

A woman across the street was walking a large dog,  and when Lenna saw the dog she pushed up close to me and slipped her hand behind my elbow and said ‘I afraid dogs!’

As we approached the B bus stop she was able to communicate to me that she needed to go downtown and catch the O bus to Milford. Apparently having been downtown just before I met her on the street, Lenna had mistakenly gotten on the Q bus rather than the O bus – O/Q – Q/O – an understandable mistake.

I should have stayed with Lenna and made sure she got on the proper O bus downtown, but she seemed insistent that she would be OK from there on.

We smiled at each other and I continued my walk …

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I have a soft spot in my heart for refugees. Perhaps it’s because I’ve known some of them, and know of tens of thousands second hand through my Navy experience and research. Here’s some I remember:

  • Gabe Harkey. Gabe was an engineer I worked with for a number of years at Cubic. He was a refugee from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and a fine man as well as an excellent engineer.
    Gabe escaped from two revolutions; the first as I said, as a young man escaped the Communist/Russian tyranny of 1956, and the second escape was from the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
       Gabe was on assignment in Teheran for a system we were to install in a few months for the Iranian Air Force. While there, the revolutionaries invaded the hotel Gabe was staying in and set fire to the lounge on the ground floor with flames spreading to the higher floors. Escape below was cut off by the fire so Gabe and others fled to the roof. Fortunately there was a building being constructed next to Gabe’s hotel and a construction crane rescued many from the roof top. Needless to say, we never deployed to Iran with the system.
  • House Painters. I don’t remember the names of this young couple from Czechoslovakia that we hired to paint our house in San Diego in late 1989. This was the time when the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Iron Curtain countries broke away from the Soviet Union.
       This young couple had tried once to escape Czechoslovakia by applying for a vacation visa to Yugoslavia with the intent of sneaking into Italy and thus to the freedom of the West. Shortly before departing for their “vacation”, their visa was revoked and their escape plans were dashed. They then applied for an exit visa which was granted, and they left for Italy as legal immigrants. They came under the sponsorship of an Italian Catholic organization, and eventually were able to come to the US where we met them and got to know a little of their story.
       As we were having dinner at our house and listening to the story of this couple, Czechoslovakia was still under Communist rule and the last of the East European Soviet Union client states still under Soviet control.
       The young painter was very critical and dismissive of his former country and its people. He spoke of them as lazy Stalinists who would never get off their lazy butts to get out from under the oppressive yoke of Communism.
       Ironically, just several weeks after we last saw them, those lazy Stalinists did overthrow their government and became a free nation.
       I wish we had somehow kept in contact with them.
  • LTJG Adam von Dioszeghy. Adam is both a new and an old friend.
       Old as when he was a young LTJG ASW Officer and I was an even younger enlisted Seaman. Mr. vonD and I stood bridge watch together as well as stood side by side at our General Quarters station in Fire Control Plot. At the time, and since, I thought Mr. vonD was Dutch.
       New as when I recently made contact again with Adam who now lives in Hungary (he now asks me to call him Adam rather than Mr. vonD).
       Adam apparently is a refugee from that 1956 Hungarian Revolution that produced so many refugees. I don’t know much about that time in his life, but he wrote a memoir, BRIDGING TWO WORLDS: Memories and Reflections, that I’ve just ordered and am anxious to read. 
  •   Charlie. I’ve never met Charlie, but have met his wife and widow who now lives in Idaho. Joan had us over for lunch one day and over a meal told us a bit of her life with her husband Charlie, a Hungarian refugee. Charlie came to American out of that terrible time of the 1956 Hungarian revolution that was so brutally stomped out by the Russian Soviet army. Between the two of them,  Joan and Charlie managed to produce three memoirs; Joan, Charlie and US.
       I have to admit I haven’t read all of these memoirs, but along with Adam’s work I’ve got a bit of reading ahead.
  • Hai (David) Nguyễn.  I  met David in prison in San Diego back in the late 1980s. Hai was a young boy when he escaped South Vietnam as one of those countless “boat people.” He somehow ran afoul of the law and wound up in the Donovan prison where I met him as a friend in a Christian outreach program. We visited him on a number of occasions in prison, and once in Los Angeles when he invited us down for dinner. A very nice fellow, but we haven’t maintained contact with him.
  • The Lucky Few.  And this is the story that gets my refugee emotions churning big time. The story of a small US Navy Fast Frigate – USS Kirk (FF-1087) and how they rescued 30,000+ Vietnamese from  almost certain annihilation by the Communist North Vietnamese invaders.
       Click here to see this amazing story, and here as part of a video I put together as a companion to my book I Didn’t Want to Worry You Mom

Reading some of the stories of the brutality happening to so many in the Middle East, in particular Iraq and Syria is heartbreaking, and being Christian, my inclination is to help, and be supportive of a nation  that traditionally has helped those in dire need.

The scourge of the twentieth century was Communism, Nazism and Fascism.  The scourge of the twenty first century is and will be Islam – not militant Islam – Islam. They are at war with us even as we deny our role as a combatant.  But just as we fought those enemies of the last century – we also provided a new home and new opportunity for millions of victims of those horrible years of war.  We must do the same now – fight the barbarous enemies and yet find room for the many victims.

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There’s more.

By now most of us know of the hundreds of thousands of ME refugees flowing into all of Western Europe.

What we are now learning is that there have been spikes in violent crimes, mostly rapes, committed by many of these Muslim young men in many European nations that have welcomed these refugees. We also learn that many of the cell phones contain grotesque pictures of torture, beheadings and mutilations. 

Norway, where we have much family, is one of the nations being effected by these new found problems. And I know from personal knowledge that the Norwegians are a compassionate people, willing and actually helping many in great need.

So there is legitimate reason to exercise caution and great care when vetting and admitting ‘refugees’ into our nations. There is reason to suspect that many of these young men are posing as refugees, but are in fact enemies set on destroying the ‘infidel’ and establishing the Muslim Caliphate where we live.


Don Johnson – January 2016








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