I’ve been reading the memoir of my old USS Porterfield shipmate and new friend Adam von Dioszeghy. Well I’ve just finished it and would like to share with you a bit about that remarkable story.
I’ve read many books over the years, and many have been biographical and some autobiographical. This one is among the best, if not the best I’ve read, and certainly the most captivating. The man’s story is almost beyond belief, and I am thrilled to have known him back in 1965-66 if ever so briefly and casually. And now to know him so much more intimately, albeit via the book and e-mails back and forth, brings a deep satisfaction.
The man begins life in 1938 as a Hungarian aristocrat – a Baron – the ruling class. But at 7 years of age everything is stripped away except for his mother — herself a Baroness – by World War II. Adam describes those war years vividly and with much passion, but also with a fair amount of humor.
Life after the war, under Communism is brutal for Adam and his mother, mainly because of his mother’s previous station in life as an aristocrat. Here is how he describes the treatment of his mother in those Communist years:
“ … she … was stripped of all human dignity common to even the lowest of beings. The authorities treated her worse than if she was a leper or a person afflicted with the foulest of communicable diseases, or possibly a criminal. There were only certain places – and not very desirable ones – where she was allowed to live. … Day in and day out, in every conceivable circumstance, it was made known to her that her very existence was bothersome to the “state,” and the sooner she could depart this vale of tears for better climes the better. … “
In Adam’s late teen years as a university student he becomes involved in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and is twice wounded. Now a wanted man and marked for death, he and his mother escape on foot to Austria with nothing but the clothes on their back.
Within a few short years they wind up in St. Louis and then on to Northern California where Adam gets a bachelors degree from Stanford University. (Mind you, when he and his mom arrived in the US, they spoke no English.) This was a year after the beginning of the Vietnam War, and Adam was drafted. But rather than let the draft play out, Adam joined the Navy and was commissioned an Ensign at Newport Rhode Island. He was then assigned to the USS Porterfield (DD-682) where he and I served together including one tour to Vietnam (he did three).
Following his Navy service, Adam returned to Stanford where he earned a law degree and began a 35 year career as a trail lawyer.
Just a note here that his book is full of very insightful and often humorous experiences as he (and his mom) navigate through this new country of theirs.
Following retirement the von Dioszeghys moved to Hungary where they have a flat in Budapest and a small 7 acre country estate where they grow grapes and make wine.
Adam closes the book by revisiting his heritage and discovering more about his father and his service in World War I, and how as a respected leader strived to return order and dignity to the now defeated and very fragmented nation. He also described a visit and tour to the Parliament building in Budapest, and to a very elegant meeting room where his grandfather sat and spoke nearly 100 years prior. Had life turned a different direction, Adam would have sat in that same seat years later.
And remember his description of how his mother was treated by the Communists? Now standing outside the Parliament with his wife Aliz, Adam reflects on one of the menial jobs his mother was allowed to have – chipping marble stones used in the reconstruction of that magnificent but badly war damaged Parliament building — chipping stones for long hours in all kinds of weather as if a slave in the service of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.
And I close by pointing out the irony of two immigrants, Adam and his wife Aliz, each choosing citizenship in new nations – he as a US citizen and her as a Hungarian citizen, while at the same time retaining citizenship in their respective old-countries.
Don Johnson – March 2016