My mother’s father, my grandfather, was born in Westphalia, Germany, in 1896. His family immigrated to the United States of America in 1904, sponsored by a family from Virginia. Along with his parents, my grandfather Adolph had one younger brother, Wilhelm, and three older sisters, Mary, Marta, and Katy.
Upon arrival to the United States, the family was processed through Ellis Island, right next to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. Katy was rejected for entrance. She failed to pass the physical given to all incoming immigrants at Ellis Island. She had chronic asthma. Katy was returned to Germany and eventually was raised by an aunt and uncle while the rest of the family settled in Blackstone, Va., on a farm. My great-grandfather sent my grandfather Adolph and my great uncle Wilhelm to Carlisle, Pa., to a school to learn how to become an American. Grandpa promptly ran away two weeks later. Uncle “Bill” eventually became the vice president of a large candy chain. Grandpa eventually became a railroad engineer. In 1942, he was commissioned as a captain in the Army for one day, only to be discharged because he was declared “defense essential” by the New York Central Railroad System. He worked 16-hour shifts six days a week throughout the next years of the war. He purchased a “war bond” weekly with the overtime wages.
During our many evenings of sitting on the front porch and listening to his stories, he told me of being invited to join a “bund” in the late 1930s. This “bund” consisted of German-Americans, many of whom swore their allegiance to Germany. He shunned them, telling all of them that he was an American. He told me stories of many of the young men in the “bund” returning to fight for the “Fatherland” in World War II.
I learned so much about how to be an American on that front porch during our myriad conservations. In many ways, my grandfather was a better American history teacher than my teachers in school were. The teachers taught me dates, while my grandfather taught me why something happened on that date.
My only question is why America no longer requires all incoming immigrants to undergo the same requirements today as we had at Ellis Island back in 1904: to be sponsored by an American family and pass a physical. If these immigrants cannot pass these requirements, they should be returned to their country of origin just as my great aunt Katy was.
Michael P. Hudson, Havelock