Top Pentagon Official Reflects on His Immigrant Roots
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 15, 2008 A day after more than 20 military immigrants became naturalized U.S. citizens at the Pentagon, a top Defense Department official reflected on his family’s journey to the United States.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England places his hand over his heart while Corporal Teresia Kamau resites the Pledge of Allegiance during a U.S. Military Naturalization Ceremony, the Pentagon courtyard, April 14, 2008. The ceremony consisted of 22 U.S. military members from 15 countries. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who delivered the keynote speech at yesterday’s ceremony, spoke today about the American roots his grandmother planted when she emigrated from Germany in 1873.
“She came to America when she was 17 years old. Of course in that era, when you left, you were never going home again,” he said. “Her parents knew she was never coming home again, which is absolutely remarkable to me.”
England’s grandmother met her husband in the United States, and the couple had eight children, including England’s mother. After his maternal grandfather -- also a German immigrant -- passed away, England’s grandmother raised the eight children alone.
“She raised eight children by herself in a time when there was no support structure, which was probably typical of a lot of immigrants to America who worked extraordinarily hard to survive here in America,” said the deputy secretary, who previously served as secretary of the Navy.
On the other side of the family tree, England’s father’s biological parents died young, leaving England’s father an orphan at age 4.
“His father had died early on, so when his mother died he was 4 years old,” England said. “So he moved down the street to a family that decided they would take him in, literally. It was a different era; you wouldn’t do that these days.”
The family down the street comprised two other children and a widow named Mary England, a British immigrant, as the surname suggests. Upon adoption, England’s father lost touch with his biological family and began using the name England.
“I think what is remarkable about all of this,” England said, “is if you had asked my grandmother when I was a young boy that her grandson would be secretary of the Navy or deputy secretary of defense -- that was not even conceptual in her mind.”
England said America affords immigrants opportunities that are unavailable in their birth nations, which drives their work ethic. “It is, I think, indicative of the United States of America that people come to this country and vast opportunities are available to them if they care to take advantage of those opportunities,” he said.
“I think immigrants are even more successful than people who have been here for a while, because they recognize that and they work very hard to take advantage of that,” he said. “Therefore, our nation is enhanced and blessed by immigrants who come to our country, because they bring enormous energy with them to take advantage of these wonderful opportunities.”
England presided over a ceremony yesterday in which 22 uniformed immigrants, representing 15 nations, took the Oath of Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and became naturalized American citizens.
“The countries you hail from, your names, your cultures, and unique experiences reflect the diversity that is this nation’s hallmark and vitality,” he told the new citizens yesterday. “The country’s strong fabric is woven from the richly varied contributions of citizens from around the entire world.”