Category Archives: Heroes

A Navy reunion–and more: a personal walk through history.

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My wife Diana and I have just returned from Budapest Hungary where we visited an old Navy shipmate and his wife Aliz.

Adam and I served together on the USS Porterfield DD-682, a destroyer, in 1965-66. Adam was an officer and I was enlisted, so it couldn’t be said that we were friends or old Navy buddies. But we stood shoulder to shoulder at General Quarters – our Battle Stations – in a small space called IC-Plot from where our five 5” guns were controlled. Adam was a memorable character in those days, with an uplifting attitude and demeanor that helped ease any boredom or tension during long, often very hot, watches during combat operations off the coast of Vietnam.  He had an accent and an  unpronounceable last name beginning with ‘van’ or ‘von’ which was changed by all aboard to Mr. von D. For years I thought he was Dutch.

We went our separate ways following our Naval service, and I didn’t give him – or for that matter my Navy experience — much thought thereafter. Then at a Porterfield reunion a few years ago I was able to get my hands on the cruise book from that time in the Western Pacific. I was drawn to the ships roster and that strange name von Dioszeghy. I did an internet search for that name and discovered the Facebook page of Aliz von Dioszeghy and sent off a message asking if this lady knew of that crazy Dutchman from the Porterfield. She did, and was married to him. I soon found out that Adam had written a wonderful 440 page story of his life beginning as a 7 year old in the midst of the WW-II Red Army siege of Budapest.  By the time I finished his book I felt I knew this man and his incredible life story.

Then in May 2017 the opportunity to visit Adam and Aliz presented itself at the end of a Baltic cruise.

What follows is a personalized historical account of a tour conducted by Adam through the significant places and events of his life in Budapest. 

January 1945 This first set of pictures show some of the places where Adam and his mother endured the WW-II battles all around and above them. The allied bombers were bombing the city from above, the Germans controlled a square just down the boulevard to the left of their apartment, and the Red Army  controlled the square down to the right. Bombs, bullets and artillery shells flowed in abundance.

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Adam and his mother lived on the third floor of this building.

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And behind this basement window was the bomb shelter where the building residents endured the bombings. 

This is also the window where Adam’s young German soldier friend Hans positioned himself with two machine guns in a futile attempt to hold off the advancing Red Army.

Hans, 19 years old, befriended 7 year old Adam and gave him his last chocolate just before his unit pulled out and left him to delay the Red Army onslaught.  A hand grenade thrown in the basement window ended the life of young Hans.

Adam and his wife Aliz live close by this window, and on their way to church Adam respectfully salutes that window – “Hans didn’t start that war” says Adam. And Aliz invariably tears up. 

The bombing cut off the water supply to the apartment building, so the residents had to traverse the main boulevard to a nearby apartment building that still had water. This was a very dangerous operation requiring Adam’s mother to cross a very active combat zone. 

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The Red Army to the left.

The German Army to the right and the street in front of Adam’s home.

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This is the apartment building from where Adam’s mother carried water in buckets. One day just as she entered the door to get water, a bomb hit above her and collapsed the front of the building causing rubble to bury her up to her neck. Miraculously she was not injured and neighbors removed the debris allowing her escape. 

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This is the doorway to the building where Adam’s mother was buried by the building debris. Adam remembers seeing her in the doorway on her return to the bomb shelter as a ghostly image covered in white plaster dust.

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Walking the streets of Budapest in 2017, 73 years after the fact, makes it difficult to place all of this in the context of the time. The pictures below show a small part of the carnage of the siege of Budapest.

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The bridges of Budapest are beautiful, but not so much during the war.

Post War Budapest to October 1956 – I don’t have any pictures of life for Adam and his mother under the Communist rule following the war, but life after the war under Communism is brutal for Adam and his mother, and especially tough 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. … “

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October 1956 – Now we move forward to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In the following picture sequence we follow Adam as he walks us through to those places of personal remembrances, and the tragedies experienced by those freedom fighters.

The revolution started as a student solidarity movement in support of student protests in Poland. It began as a peaceful and unarmed demonstration against a tyrannical Communist government. The group drew up a list of 16 requests – not demands as Adam points out – that were brought to the radio station along this very narrow street where 5000 students had marched.

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The government response to the 16 requests was “not only no – but hell no.” Officials in the radio station were armed, and soon a shot rang out from above and a young student was killed in the street below.

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This plaque on the sidewalk opposite the radio station commemorates this first casualty of the revolution, marking the name and date of this young man’s death.

And these plaques on the wall of the radio station commemorate the event – and that is Adam’s hand reaching up to that commemoration.  

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The protests moved to the Parliament building, a magnificent building, and one in which Adam’s grandfather, a Baron,  had in years past sat as a member of the Hungarian Parliament.

Adam recounts that at some point in what was now a revolution, a truck drove up to where the students had gathered and started handing out weapons. Adam recalls when about twenty students gathered in a room, each having a Russian machine gun. They are sitting in a circle facing one another as someone is instructing them on how to use these weapons. Suddenly a shot rings out, and a young student just to the right of Adam falls dead, a casualty of an accidental shot from one of those machine guns. 

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Back to the Parliament, the scene is one where there is a huge crowd gathered in the square between the front of the Parliament building and the building shown above.

There were armed government soldiers stationed on the roof of that building and they started shooting indiscriminately into the crowd.  There were also tanks stationed in front of the parliament, and at one point a tank commander is fed up with the killing from the rooftop, and he shoots a couple of tank rounds to the shooters above. 

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Years later, after the collapse of the Communist regime, the deaths of those brave freedom fighters is commemorated by the placement of these bronze balls on the walls of the building from which those murders took place – one for each death.

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Somewhere along the way Adam is wounded and he is headed back to the Technical University, pictured above, where he was a student.

A friend and fellow student intercepts Adam on the bridge pictured above and warns him to turn back. A wounded and bandaged student is certain to be arrested and most likely to be executed. So Adam turns back and thus begins the next chapter in the life of Adam von Dioszeghy and his mother – a flight to freedom in Austria and ultimately to the United States.

It is important to note that as this revolution unfolded, nearly every segment of Hungarian society joined with the students in the attempt to throw off the tyranny.  This included even the Hungarian military, which had to be removed from the city and replaced by Soviet troops from the interior of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the Soviets brutally crushed the revolution resulting in many arrests, deaths and tens of thousands of refugees, some 40,000 who came to the United States. 

Again, walking the streets of Budapest in 2017, 60 years after the fact, makes it difficult to place all of this in the context of the time. The pictures below show a small part of the carnage of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The images are brutal.

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Sitting at the breakfast table in our hotel overlooking the streets of Budapest in 2017, it is hard to picture anything different than the people below going to and fro – peaceful and minding their own business going shopping, going to work or school. That is what Budapest and the world should look like.

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The life of a refugee in America.

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Coming to the United States as a refugee; to a foreign land and a foreign culture, not knowing the language was the next huge hurdle facing this young man.

But Adam’s life in America shows the grit and fortitude of this young man who had lost everything in his Hungarian homeland. His family heritage in Hungary was one of aristocracy, land and wealth. Yet here he was, having to begin a new life from scratch.

In 1957, Adam and his mother arrived to an exceptional nation. A nation that afforded him two key elements that make that nation exceptional – liberty and opportunity. Adam took great advantage of that fabric of liberty and opportunity and earned a degree at Stanford University, one of the great universities of America. Then when his new nation called him to military service in time of need at the beginning of the Vietnam War, he gratefully stepped up and became a US Naval officer serving three tours to the war zone of Vietnam.

Following his Navy service, Adam returned to Stanford earning a law degree and practicing law in the San Francisco area for many years before retiring and returning to his homeland of Hungary.   

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A fitting conclusion to this story is this picture of Adam standing beside the statue of President Ronal Reagan in Budapest’s Freedom Square. Communism had failed and fallen, and the people of Hungary rightly commemorate their liberty with this tribute to this great American leader. 

Leaders like American President Ronald Reagan, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II took note of the evils of Communism, and were finally in a position to defeat it and bring liberty to those many like Adam von Dioszeghy who yearned so strongly for and fought for it.

Adam is engaged in another battle for survival, this time against a cancer that has invaded his body. These kinds of personal battles eventually visit all of us, but I must say, this friend of mine shows a love of life – a joy of living – not often seen. A joy in spite of the tragedies he has lived through. But no … I believe his joy comes not in spite of, but rather because of his experiences. I am honored to be his friend and shipmate.        

Poland likewise recognizes Reagan with similar tributes.

“ … Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. … “

Ronald Reagan

References and further reading:

BRIDGING TWO WORLDS: Memories and Reflections – at https://www.amazon.com/BRIDGING-TWO-WORLDS-Memories-Reflections/dp/1622878663/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

My review of Adam’s book at — https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/bridging-two-worlds-a-book-review/

The Bridge at Andau: The Compelling True Story of a Brave, Embattled People — at https://www.amazon.com/Bridge-Andau-Compelling-Embattled-People/dp/0812986741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1496567578&sr=1-1&keywords=the+bridge+at+andau

Immigration & Assimilation – A Hungarian Model – at https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/immigration-assimilation-a-hungarian-model-2/

Statue in Budapest’s Liberty Square credits Reagan for freedom  — at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jun/29/statue-in-budapests-liberty-square-credits-reagan-/

Ronald Reagan statue unveiled in Warsaw  — at  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/poland/8904456/Ronald-Reagan-statue-unveiled-in-Warsaw.html

Reagan, John Paul II honored with statue in Gdansk Poland – at: http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Reagan-John-Paul-II-honored-with-statue-3707733.php

What’s Become of the American Dream?

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Peggy Noonan writes a wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal. Click  “What’s Become of the American Dream?” to read the article.

Much in Noonan’s piece brought me back to the memoirs of Sam Jankovich which I have just finished editing and publishing.

A couple of excerpts from Noonan …

“ … The American dream is the belief, held by generation after generation since our beginning and reanimated over the decades by waves of immigrants, that here you can start from anywhere and become anything. In America you can rise to the heights no matter where and in what circumstances you began. You can go from the bottom to the top.  … “

The picture at the top is the last page of the memoir, and shows one such person who has gone “from the bottom to the top” in the literal sense of from a mile deep mine shaft to presenting a national championship game ball to the President of the United States.

Noonan further writes:

“ … The American dream was about aspiration and the possibility that, with dedication and focus, it could be fulfilled. But the American dream was not about material things—houses, cars, a guarantee of future increase. That’s the construction we put on it now. It’s wrong. A big house could be the product of the dream, if that’s what you wanted, but the house itself was not the dream. You could, acting on your vision of the dream, read, learn, hold a modest job and rent a home, but at town council meetings you could stand, lead with wisdom and knowledge, and become a figure of local respect. Maybe the respect was your dream.  … “

Click on the book cover below and take a look at Sam’s story.

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          (Click on the cover above)

As Noonan further writes:

“ … You can give a dozen examples, and perhaps you are one, of Americans who turned a brilliant system into a lived-out triumph. … “

And I do know of a number other examples.

 

Don Johnson – April 2017

Sam Jankovich: The Story of a Sports Legend

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“ … I worked in the Leonard mine which was the turning point of my life. I was put in a tunnel and was scared to death. I thought for certain I would not get out alive. I came home and told Patty that if I had to work in the mine we were going to starve. … “

How did this young man, a hard rock miner from Butte Montana, rise from the depths of a mine tunnel to one day stand beside two Presidents and among two National Championship college football teams? From a dirty and dangerous mine to stand beside Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testeverde and coaches of the caliber of Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson? How did this young man rise from that dark, cold mine shaft to become Chief executive Officer of the New England patriots? How did this man expand a football stadium in Pullman Washington from 24,000 to 39,000 seats – with no cost to the tax payer?

Sam Jankovich came to the surface of the Leonard mine and rose to the top of his chosen profession of athletics. From state championship teams in Butte — to assistant coaching at universities in Montana and Washington — to Athletic Director at Washington State and the University of Miami – to CEO of the Patriots. All along the way earning induction into the Halls of Fame of these institutions.

As the editor of Sam’s memoirs I learned the answers to these questions. Sentence by sentence – paragraph by paragraph – page by page – place to place. I found the answers in words like ‘character’, ‘loyalty’, ‘quality’ and ‘consistency’ bubbling up from the pages. I began to see the character of the man as golden threads woven through the fabric of his life and career. Part of the fabric and yet distinctly visible.

The story of Sam Jankovich is in these pages, but it is not a story of “I”. Rather, it seems subsumed and surrounded by the many stories of the “others” of Sam’s life. You will run across constantly recurring phrases as “… a wonderful man” “ … a wonderful person” “… a dear friend”, “a wonderful woman”

Sam Jankovich is one of the “old timers” I’ve become acquainted or reacquainted with in recent years. Others, along with their stories, have come to me from my Navy past — some from that “Greatest Generation” of World War II, Korea, the Cold War and Vietnam. One of my Navy shipmates, and a friend, is a refugee from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and a three tour Navy Vietnam veteran. Another is a Navy veteran of those many World War II sea-battles in the South Pacific — followed by infantry combat in that very brutal Korean War – followed by a long career as a Christian pastor .

These folks who have lived such consequential lives, and have left behind recollections of their lives, deserve to be remembered. That is why I have become passionate in doing what I can to further those remembrances.

I hope you enjoy the story of one such consequential life – the life of Sam Jankovich.

Click on the image below to take a look at this remarkable man.

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Don Johnson – typoist and editor of Sam Jankovich

Vietnam Veterans Day: Department of Body Bags…

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(Click on the picture above or on the link below)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/122086120374/permalink/10158386310075375/?comment_id=10158386949260375&notif_t=group_comment_reply&notif_id=1490810174199347

Excerpt:

“I was a twenty-year-old Navy journalist in the summer of 1967 aboard the aging World War Two aircraft carrier USS HORNET. We were steaming in the gentle blue waters of Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin some forty miles or so from the coast of North Vietnam.

It was noon, and after chow on sunny days (when there was no flight activity on the flight deck) some of the Public Affairs Office crew would gather topside to catch some rays.

We’d strip off our dungaree shirts and use them for pillows and we would absorb the tropical sun, or sit and chat or write letters home or listen to Chris Noel on Armed Forces Radio or Hanoi Hanna on the shortwave radio. … “

A twenty year old journalist!  What could a 20 year old know about much of anything, let alone journalism? Read his story and I think you might see the talent this young man had back then, and still retains.

Today is the first ever Vietnam Veterans Day.  I didn’t know that yesterday, did you?

I read Michael Wheat’s heart breaking story just a bit ago, and then read it again out loud to my wife. It wasn’t long before, like Michael, I was weeping.  This is what I wrote back to Michael:    

“I too weep at this remembrance. There was a time, also on Yankee Station, when a fallen Navy flyer lay on the main deck of our tin can. I weep over him as well.
Thanks for this remembrance.”

Michael wasn’t in the heat of battle, yet these many years later he remembers … and weeps.

I wasn’t in the heat of battle, yet these many years later I remember … and weep.

 

 

Don Johnson – March 2017

#RESIST

(Note: matt in a comment, and in a not so subtle way, reminded me that it’s not just the military #resisters who have accomplished great things in the life of American liberty. I have added some examples below: abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, right to life and the labor movement. Perhaps I’ve left out a few.  Is the  ‘pussy hat’  movement on a par in advancing liberty in America? You decide.)

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Perhaps the oldest and most effective #RESIST movement in world history is the Christian movement. I speak particularly of the Christian Missionary movement.  Dating back to the Apostles like Paul, #RESISTing not with violence, marches and the sort, but with presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a way out of the slavery sin, and ultimately in centuries to come, the abolition of real physical slavery in many parts of the world.

The folks shown below are pushing back and #RESISTing much oppression in the world – the oppression of hunger, disease, slavery and poverty.  And, they are doing this on a long term daily basis.

As Paul said “ There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That is to say all are equal in God’s eyes. Slavery as an accepted cultural and governmental policy has been eliminated throughout much of the world thanks to the efforts of such Christians as William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament in the 18th century,  and the Abolitionist #RESISTers in the United States during the 19th century. However, slavery is still prevalent in much of the world with an estimated 45,000,000 slaves  throughout the world today.

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So I repeat here what I say at the end of this piece – a bit of advice. Aim your protests in words and ways that stand shoulder to shoulder beside our founding fathers who gave us the privilege of being among that 4-5% living in freedom.  

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”   Ronald Reagan

Be among those who keep us from falling into that 95-96% that President Reagan warned about.

Match up what the Apostle Paul said “ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  with what our American founders said “We the People … “

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Now I continue with my original post:

To all you brave ‘pussy hat’ wearing patriots, let me show you a few patriots who joined a resistance movement against real enemy threats when it really counted.

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And there are other n0n-military #resisters from the past addressing  consequential American policies and laws that were contrary to “ … all men are created equal …”  Thanks to these #resisters, those policies and laws have been corrected in law and in the Constitution, although not necessarily in the hearts and minds of everyone.

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And then there is the labor movement.

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A reminder, or maybe a news flash to some, about those #Resisters you see above …

These folks #resisted true tyrants, true fascists, true Communists   during that terrible time we look back on as the 20th century. Those Communists some of you seem to pine and long over … they killed something on the order of 100 million people, most of them their own fellow citizens.

The descendants of those folks you see above,  … our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters … our friends — stepping up in their own #Resist movement represent something on the order of 1 or 2 percent of our population. Their purpose in #Resisting? To protect you and me in todays still dangerous world.

You may not realize or appreciate, but of the 100 to 110 billion people that have ever lived on this earth, anywhere and at any time, only a small sliver of perhaps some 4 to 5% have ever lived in what we today enjoy as a free society.  Further, most of those 4-5%  have lived in this United States of America, or those nations who have modeled their national political life after the American model of “We the People …

I for one am immensely grateful for those in our past and to those now serving in our military … the #Resistance. As a US Navy slogan puts it … “A Global Force For Good”

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I said it as a young 20 year old sailor in 1964, and I’ll say it again now.

“I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

And I don’t agree with much of what is said in the “resisting” rhetoric on display, and certainly not in the many extra/anti-Constitutional methods employed, but I do support your Constitutional right to say your piece and assemble and petition our government.  

A final bit of advice. Aim your protests in words and ways that stand shoulder to shoulder beside our founding fathers who gave us the privilege of being among that 4-5% living in freedom.  

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”   Ronald Reagan

Be among those who keep us from falling into that 95-96% that President Reagan warned about.

 

Don Johnson  — March 2017

Phone Calls I Don’t Like To Make

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Perhaps it’s my age.

In recent years I’ve been accumulating some new friends, like Gene Beckstrom above.

I met Gene a few short years ago at a Navy ship reunion in 2013. Gene was a WW-II Navy veteran who served from 1943-46 on one of those small destroyers – they call them “tin cans” because that’s kind of how they are built. Fast but fragile when under attack by enemy ships or a howling sea.  But the young men aboard were as tough as steel.

Then in 1946 Gene joined the Army, and in June 1950 his unit was called to the Pusan Perimeter to stave off the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Gene was  a Combat Engineer and fought that brutal war up and down the Korean peninsula.

Gene served 20 years in the Army, including a short stint in Vietnam.

On retirement Gene went back to school and became a Baptist pastor serving the northern Minnesota border region where he and his wife started 19 ministries over a 25 year span.

You can’t help but fall in love with these guys … these guys from that “greatest generation.” They saved freedom in the world by pushing back … by resisting  the tyrannies of their day.  Pushing back and resoundly defeating Fascism, Nazism and Communism.

I put Gene on my call list and would call him now and then. Around Christmas time I got my phone out to call a few of these old friends. I knew that one of those times I would dial and there would be no answer.

As I picked up my phone, Gene’s was the first number. I knew and was thinking it at the time I dialed “one of these times I would call and Gene wouldn’t be there.”

These are the Phone Calls I Don’t Like To Make.

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Sam Thomas served on the USS Porterfield DD-682 with Gene Beckstrom through those many sea battles of the South Pacific. I met Sam at that 2013 ship reunion.

Sam, as far as I can tell was the founder of the Balch/Porterfield reunion association and had attended 40 straight reunions to 2015. He called me a month or so prior to the 2016 reunion and told me his body just wouldn’t allow him to make 41.

I talked with Sam just after learning of Gene’s passing late in 2016, and then again just a week or two prior to his passing in January 2017.  A real gentleman … a friend and a shipmate although we served on Porterfield two decades apart.

These are the Phone Calls I Don’t Like To Make.

Bitter-sweet friendships. Sweet in knowing them … bitter in knowing the friendship would be short.

Don Johnson – March 2017

Immigration & Assimilation – A Hungarian Model

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(Click on the image above for more)

[Note: Since this original post I’ve added another Hungarian refugee — Thomas Peterffy]

Immigration is much in the news these days, both here in the U.S. and in Europe, and a huge political football in both places with many violent crimes and sexual assaults being committed in countries such as Sweden and Germany (click on the links).

The United States from its inception is an immigrant nation, and as many of us can attest, our roots are in the forefathers who immigrated here whether in the present or in the distant past. For example, in my own home town of Butte Montana, a mining town that attracted people from all over the world, NO SMOKING signs in the mines were posted in 14 different languages.

The success or failure of a society such as ours tracks closely to the assimilation of those disparate immigrant people into the culture of the nation, and for the most part, this assimilation has been quite successful – often after much struggle as in the case of the Irish and the Italians. But through assimilation, each new immigrant population has entered into the fabric of America, and often with significant contributions.

The stories of refugees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution provide inspiring stories of struggle, survival, perseverance and success. Some I have knowledge of provide a model of what immigration and assimilation should be:

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(Click on the image above)

Adam von Dioszeghy  (Mr. von D – as he was known by his US Navy shipmates) is a survivor of the World War II battle of Budapest – a battle pitting the air forces of Great Britain and the United States, the German occupying army and the Soviet Red Army – all converging around the basement bomb shelter where seven year old Adam and his mother survive against this harrowing onslaught.

Surviving the war they suffered in the following years under the brutal oppression of Communist rule.

In 1956 young Adam became involved in the revolution and was twice wounded. The revolution was brutally squashed by the Red Army and Adam and his mother were marked for death and escaped in the dead of night to Austria with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and little usable cash.

Adam and his mother eventually made their way to Menlo Park California where Adam earned a degree from Stanford University. Mind you, that when the two of them first arrived in America they spoke no English.

Adam was then called up in the draft in the early years of the Vietnam War and joined the Navy and was commissioned an officer in the US Navy and assigned to the World War II Fletcher Class destroyer USS Porterfield where we served side by side at General Quarters and on the bridge during normal underway operations.

Following Navy service with three tours to Vietnam, Adam returned to Stanford where he earned a law degree and practiced as a trial lawyer for many years in Northern California.

I hooked up with Mr. von D again in recent months (Spring 2016) when I discovered him via the internet. Adam and his wife retired a few years back, and at his wife’s suggestion, have returned to live in and around Budapest once more – his wife was born and raised in Northern California.

Click on the book image above to read my review of his memoir as well as a link to the book – a wonderful and fascinating book.

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Charlie —

Note: Out of respect of privacy concerns expressed by Charlie’s wife, and by Charlie as expressed by his wife, I have written this in an anonymous fashion using my own paraphrase for events described in Charlie’s written memoir.

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Like Mr. von D — Charlie was a Hungarian refugee and experienced many of the same things in surviving WW-II as a young child … living under a brutal Communist regime … escaping a crushed revolution … and finally resettling and assimilating into the American culture. We met the widow of Charlie, a year ago, but never knew Charlie. She told a spellbinding story of how she and her husband met and married. I later asked if any of this had been written down. She responded by sending unpublished stories of their life together, including an extensive account of Charlie‘s life growing up in Hungary through WW-II, the oppression of the Communist years and his involvement in the revolution and subsequent escape to the West and the US.

Several episodes highlight the heritage of Charlie and the type of man that came to America in 1956:

First are his descriptions of his mother hiding Polish Jews from the Germans who were bent on the extermination of all Jews. His mother did this at the risk of her own life as well as the lives of her family.

Second is Charlie learning English in America by spending many hours in movie theaters, often watching the same movies over and over and with a dictionary and a pad and pencil at hand.

Another came about somewhat casually as we were visiting with Charlie’s wife at her home. I commented on the flag flying at the property entrance and visible from the front window. Yes, she said, Charlie always liked to have the American flag flying where he could see it. This to me was a great testimony of how this refugee from war and tyranny viewed his new home country.

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I’ve read Charlie’s story, and it is indeed captivating and inspiring. I hope his wife has success in the future and publishes their story and shares it with many. The story is very well written – and from one who knew no English when he entered the US as a refugee — rest assured that Charlie assimilated into the American culture and became a productive citizen in his new country. It is an inspiring story of overcoming war, an oppressive government, revolution and crafting a new and successful life in a free society.

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I knew Gabriel Harkay and worked with him at Cubic Corp back in the 1980s. He was quite a good civil engineer and worked many projects around the world building communications towers and facilities for our Tactical Aircrew Training System . I wish I had paid more attention to Gabe back then, but I do know that he was a refugee from the 1956 Hungarian revolution, and likely had experiences similar to others I have written about.

One project we worked together was a system for the Iranian Air Force in the late 1970s. We were scheduled to deploy to Iran to install the system in early 1980, and Gabe was in Tehran doing some preparatory work. The revolutionaries stormed the hotel where Gabe was staying, broke all of the liquor bottles in the first floor bar and set it all on fire, cutting off escape of guests in the rooms above.  Fortunately there was a construction tower adjacent to the hotel and guests were lifted from the roof of the burning hotel to the tower and to safety. So inadvertently Gabe Harkay was involved in his second revolution and survived both. Needless to say, we did not deploy the system to Iran.

I regret not having details of my friend Gabe’s life, and I’ve since found that Gabe has passed.

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(Click on the image for more)

Andrew Grove was a Hungarian-born American businessman, engineer, author and a science pioneer in the semiconductor industry. He escaped from Communist-controlled Hungary at the age of 20 and moved to the United States where he finished his education. He was one of the founders and the CEO of Intel Corporation, helping transform the company into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors.

When he was eight, the Nazis occupied Hungary and deported nearly 500,000 Jews to concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Its commandant, Rudolf Höss, said at his trial that he killed 400,000 Hungarian Jews in three months. To avoid being arrested, Grove and his mother took on false identities and were sheltered by friends. His father, however, was arrested and taken to an Eastern Labor Camp to do forced labor, and was reunited with his family after the war.

During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when he was 20, he left his home and family and escaped across the border into Austria. Penniless and barely able to speak English, in 1957 he eventually made his way to the United States. He later changed his name to the anglicized, Andrew S. Grove. Grove summarized his first twenty years of life in Hungary in his memoirs:

“By the time I was twenty, I had lived through a Hungarian Fascist dictatorship, German military occupation, the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” the siege of Budapest by the Soviet Red Army, a period of chaotic democracy in the years immediately after the war, a variety of repressive Communist regimes, and a popular uprising that was put down at gunpoint where many young people were killed and countless others were interned. Some two hundred thousand Hungarians escaped to the West. I was one of them.”

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I’ve just finished reading Mr. Grove’s story “Swimming Across” and like the others it is compelling and repeats the common experiences of these young boys and men through World War II, the Nazi occupation and holocaust remembrances (Grove was a Jew), the brutal Communist years culminating in the 1956 revolution and Russian occupation.

A part of Andy Grove’s story that stands out is the reception he received upon arrival in the United States. At every turn, it seems, Grove was kindly treated and helped in many small and large ways. Like finding a relative and housing in New York City. He was outfitted with new clothing replacing the clothes he wore for over a month during his escape from Hungary to a brief settlement in Vienna Austria, to a long train ride to Germany followed by a two week long ocean voyage to Brooklyn New York.

Grove had completed a fair amount of university education in chemistry while in Hungary, and in seeking to complete his goal of becoming a chemist, he was helped along the way to becoming a chemical engineer with interviews and scholarship aid at several New York schools.

And of course it is widely known that Andrew Grove was one of the small group of founders of Intel Corpo0ration, and was its CEO for many years.  (Source –Wikipedia)

Read now what Andy Grove says about his life in America:

“I have loved my life in the United States. The doors that the International Rescue Committee and Professor Schmidt opened for me were just the first of many. I went through graduate school on scholarships, got a fantastic job at Fairchild Semiconductor, the high flying company of its day, then participated in the founding of Intel, which in time has become the largest maker of semiconductors in the world. I rose to be its chief executive officer, a position I held for eleven years, until I stepped down from it in 1998; I continue as chairman today. I’ve continued to be amazed by the fact that as I progressed through school and my career, no one has ever resented my success on account of my being an immigrant.”

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Here is another fascinating story I stumbled on:

Chance encounter in war-torn Hungary renewed 64 years later (click on he link)

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Gabriel Pall   is yet another interesting and inspiring refugee from Hungary. An American B-24 bomber was forced to crash land in Hungary after a bombing mission. Bob Holcomb was the bombardier on that mission, and after the unplanned landing a group of young and curious Hungarian boys gathered around the aircraft and its crew. Among the boys was Gabriel Pall who spoke a little English, and the two struck up a very brief friendship.

Like other local children, young Gabriel was drawn to the U.S. airmen like a magnet.

Holcomb had some candy in his pockets and gave some to the young boy, told him his name and said ‘If you ever get to America … look me up’

Mr. Pall did come to the States — in 1957 following the 1956 revolution, and like the others I’ve found, assimilated into the American culture and led a productive and quite remarkable professional life.

And Mr. Pall was tenacious in finding his American of years past and he and Mr. Holcomb met again after a long 64 years. For Pall, their meeting left a lasting impression as evidenced by the tenacity in which he searched those many decades for his American flyboy friend.

“I remember two things,” Pall said. “One, he gave me Wrigley’s chewing gum. And two, he said, ‘Hey, kid – if you ever get to America, look me up.’”

Holcomb and the rest of his bomber crew made their way to Budapest and then back to Italy … and finally back home to America.

Pall escaped from Soviet-dominated Hungary in 1956 to start a new life in America.

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Gabriel Pall with his wife, Christine Rose, left, and their daughter, Laura Rose, at Laura’s graduation from the University of Virginia.

Pall grew up under the Soviet-backed communist regime in Hungary. His family moved to Budapest, where he attended high school and enrolled in college to study civil engineering. In 1956, he graduated from the Technical University of Budapest. He went to work for the government, designing state rail and highway projects, and began training as a reserve officer with the Hungarian army corps of engineers.

Then came Oct. 23 that year, and the Hungarian Revolution. After a brief, heady taste of independence, the Soviet armored divisions rolled across the border and crushed the rebellion.

Hungary’s Stalinist government had been repressive before the uprising, Pall said, but now, he knew, it would be even worse. He and his fiancée, Agnes Szabo, decided they would try to get out.

On Nov. 23, the couple left Budapest by train for Szombathely, only 20 miles from Austria and freedom. But the railroad station was surrounded by Soviet troops and local militias, checking identity papers and arresting anyone without a residency permit.

They were trapped.

A local resident warned them of armed Soviet patrols and showed them where to hide, promising to send a guide after nightfall. The man showed up as promised and took them to a house at the edge of town, where a small group of refugees was waiting to cross into Austria.

They walked several miles across open fields, not speaking, wrapped in bed sheets to blend into the snow-covered countryside. When they arrived at the frontier, they found it guarded by barbed wire and landmines.

Using knitting needles to probe the ground, Pall and the guide painstakingly marked a safe path through the minefield. As the group began to cross, flares lit up the night and machinegun fire shredded the silence. The guide ordered everyone to drop to the ground.

They were lucky. The border guards hadn’t seen them – they were shooting at someone else. After the gunfire stopped, they completed their journey into Austria, where they found safe haven at a place called Lutzmannsburg.

Later, they learned that another group of refugees had been gunned down by a patrol a mile or two from their crossing point.

‘If you ever get to America …’

Gabriel Pall and Agnes Szabo found a warm welcome in Austria, and the couple got married in Vienna on Dec. 27, 1956. But Pall never intended to stay there forever.

I had this destination, which was to come to America,” he said.

He had an uncle in the States and, he thought, a friend in Oregon – that dashing young flyboy he had met during the war.

The next year, under an Eisenhower-era program designed to recruit engineering talent fleeing Soviet-bloc countries, the couple secured a visa and crossed the pond.

They settled in Philadelphia, where Pall began a long and successful career with IBM. He rose through the corporate ranks, taking ever more challenging assignments with the company. In 1983, Agnes died of cancer. Pall remarried, and his new wife gave birth to a daughter. He retired from IBM, did some consulting, then accepted a faculty position at the College of William & Mary.

Gabriel Pall:  Some Background Information

·  Member American Society of Civil Engineers

·  Member Association for Computing Machinery.

·  Member American Society for Quality

·  Member American Society for Training and Development

Education

· BS degree
Structural Engineering
Technical University of Budapest

· MS degree
Engineering Mechanics
University of Pennsylvania

A fitting conclusion to this story of Gabriel Pall is the following news article:

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., March 11, 2014 – A Citizenship Ceremony for children of recently naturalized United States citizens will be held on Saturday, March 22, at Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia. The event is hosted by the Williamsburg Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the Department of Homeland Security.

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Fifty young people ages 11 to 25 from 26 countries – Belarus, Benin, Canada, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, India, Republic of Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Lithuania, Mauritius, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Sudan, United Kingdom, Ukraine and Vietnam – will take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and receive formal acknowledgement of their citizenship. The ceremony begins at 2 p.m. and is open to the public on a space-available basis.

“We are proud to join with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and USCIS to sponsor this truly special ceremony for a third year,” said Jane M. Stewart, regent for the Williamsburg Chapter NSDAR, which co-sponsors two adult naturalization ceremonies annually in June and December with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “It’s appropriate to hold it at Jamestown Settlement, near where some of the very first immigrants to our country came ashore.”

Featured speaker for the event is Williamsburg resident Gabriel A. Pall, an internationally recognized author and management consultant. A native of Hungary, he escaped to Austria during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, immigrated to the United States the following year and became a naturalized citizen in 1962. After a 30-year career with IBM, he retired as an executive and later became president of Juran International Inc., a global consulting firm specializing in quality management. More recently, Mr. Pall has consulted on project and process management with the College of William and Mary.

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Finally, read this snippet from an article from a Hungarian organization in Cleveland where many of the refugees, including Charlie, lived for a time before moving on.

“ … These refugees were markedly different from any previous wave of Hungarian immigrants. First of all, they were the youngest group; many were single. The majority had some kind of technical training and their skills were readily employed by American industry. Psychologically, immigration made lasting impressions on these refugees. For eleven years they experienced life under economic depravity and political terror. As a direct consequence, their interests in America were more materialistic and self-centered; cultural or group attachments were much weaker when compared to those of previous waves of immigrants. They adjusted with greater ease, learned English in a short while, with many of them marrying English-speaking mates. Their contributions to their adopted homeland were numerous. … “

I am inspired by these stories, and hope you are as well.  I also hope you will agree that these Hungarians represent the best possible model of immigration and assimilation.

And note that these Hungarian refugees were gathered together at an Army base in New Jersey and vetted prior to release into the general American populace – for several reasons:

· Among the refugees were plants from the Soviet Union, plants whose missions included espionage against the United States, and assassinations against fellow refugees. Charlie, in his memoir, tells of the many years he spent in looking over his shoulder for that would be assassin.

· 1956 being at the height of the Cold War, the US was interested in conditions behind the Iron Curtain. These Hungarian refugees were interrogated in order to extract as much useful information as possible. Some such as Andrew Grove were educated in the sciences and engineering, and could provide insight into the scientific and engineering maturity and capabilities of the Soviet Union. The average age of refugees was 23, including many children, well educated (from one university 500 students, 32 professors, and their families fled), and talented (including musicians, athletes, writers, engineers and other professionals) people come through swamps and guards to reach non-communist Austria. The Austrian people were exemplary in their welcome of the Hungarian refugees.

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But let’s not leave this story just yet – there’s more.

The nation that welcomed these refugees is a big part of the story. A story that begins with the words  from our Declaration of Independence “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.“ and from our Constitution beginning with the words “We the People …

It is these ideals enshrined from the very beginning in the very fabric of America that afforded these refugees the liberty and opportunity to begin new lives – lives to be lived not under the yoke of kings, queens, emperors, dictators, bishops, czars or other autocrats. No, these new American citizens would rise or fall primarily on their own merits … and also with the benevolent help of other free citizens and the governments freely elected by free men and women. Was it easy? No. But there were no machineguns, tanks or minefields set up to dictate their every thought or movement.

These 35,000 or more freedom seeking Hungarians sought out and made new lives in that “Exceptional Nation” the United States of America.

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(The following bio information is taken from Wikipedia with {Publius edits in this font})

Thomas Peterffy was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1944, in a hospital basement during a Russian air raid.[1][6] He left his engineering studies and emigrated to the United States as a refugee in 1965.[1][6][7] When he moved to New York City, he did not speak English. He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Clark University.[8]  

{Note that Peterffy came out of Hungary much later than the others I’ve highlighted. However, he did live under the oppression of Communism in Hungary and escaped from it.}

Peterffy began his career in the US as an architectural draftsman working on highway projects for an engineering firm. It was at this firm that he volunteered to program a newly-purchased computer, ultimately shaping the course of his future. Of his background in programming Peterffy said, “I think the way a CEO runs his company is a reflection of his background. Business is a collection of processes, and my job is to automate those processes so that they can be done with the greatest amount of efficiency.”[1][6]

Peterffy left his career designing financial modelling software and bought a seat on the American Stock Exchange to trade equity options. During his career in finance, he has consistently pushed to replace manual processes with more efficient automated ones. He would write code in his head during the trading day and then apply his ideas to computerized trading models after hours. Peterffy created a major stir among traders by introducing handheld computers onto the trading floor in the early 1980s.[1][6] His business related to his AMEX seat eventually developed into Interactive Brokers.[1][6]

Regulatory influence and political views

In 1999, Peterffy was influential in persuading the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that US options markets could be linked electronically, which would ensure that investors receive the best possible options prices.[9] He has also testified before the United States Senate Banking Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment about adding banking regulations.[1]

During the 2012 United States presidential campaign, Peterffy created political ads in support of the Republican Party. Peterffy bought millions of dollars of air time on networks such as CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg. The ads consisted of a minute-long spot narrated by Peterffy that warned against creeping socialism in the United States. The ads were considered remarkable in part because Peterffy is not a candidate and did not buy the ads through a “527 group” but instead paid for them directly.[10]

In the spot Peterffy said, “America’s wealth comes from the efforts of people striving for success. Take away their incentive with badmouthing success and you take away the wealth that helps us take care of the needy. Yes, in socialism the rich will be poorer — but the poor will also be poorer. People will lose interest in really working hard and creating jobs.” Peterffy did not directly mention Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, but clearly favored the former.[11]

Peterffy’s ad received mixed responses. Joshua Green, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, said “The ad, while slightly ridiculous, is deeply sincere and also quite affecting”. Green also asked Peterffy whether the comparison between the United States and Hungary made in the ad was a fair one: “[Peterffy] couldn’t really think that the U.S. was turning into socialist Hungary, could he? The government isn’t suppressing speech and throwing political opponents in jail. No, he conceded, it wasn’t. But it sure feels like that’s the path we’re on”.[12] Politico reported that the ad was “being hailed as one of the best spots this election cycle”, and said that it could have been influential in Ohio due to its large Hungarian population.[13]

Voter registration records in Connecticut show that Peterffy is registered as an independent voter.[10] Campaign contribution records show that he donated at least $60,000 to the Republican National Committee in 2011 and that over the past few years has mostly donated to Republican candidates.[11]

During the 2016 presidential election, Peterffy donated $100,000 to the campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump.[14]

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Hungarians know things that others in the West have only read about. They know oppression and tyranny.

Many, though certainly not all, within todays new refugees from the Middle East are merely transplanting their tyranny to new locations – but it doesn’t take many to wreak havoc as seen recently in many European nations and in the United States as well.

Read “The Bridge at Andau” by James Michener, a work of non-fiction. Yes, the Hungarians were refugees themselves and others in Europe welcomed them and many came to America. The Hungarians did not bring with them a murderous attitude to all who were not Hungarians. They did not bring with them a hatred of those who gave them shelter. They did not attack women, priests, nightclubs or newspapers. They did not fly large airplanes into large buildings nor drive trucks down the streets mowing people down. They did not behead others in the land that gave them sanctuary. They did not set off bombs at large sporting events or in shopping malls.

The Hungarian refugees of 1956-57 sought to escape oppression and avail themselves of the opportunities offered by free societies. And many have contributed in positive ways as shown by the handful I have highlighted above.

Many of the un-vetted new refugees in Europe and the US want to spread oppression and destabilize rather than contribute to their host nations in positive ways.

If we are to remain a culture valuing liberty and opportunity, and a culture gleaning the best that foreign immigrants have to offer, while providing sanctuary to those fleeing oppression,  let us return to the Hungarian model. The high bar set by the Hungarians in the mid 1950s has been dramatically and deliberately lowered in recent years in the name of political expediency. We lower the bar at our own peril and risk a fundamental transformation of our nation.

Immigration – yes, but with great care in culling out those who mean harm.

Don Johnson – July 2016