June 7, 2008

Vietnam Veteran Will Finally Get US Citizenship

Thanks to Denis Hamill of NY Daily News. Well done! Mr. Thomas' story is too amazing to edit, so here is the whole story:
No way to treat a hero: Vet earned three Purple Hearts but still no citizenship
Thursday, June 5th 2008, 4:00 AM
This one looks like it might have a happy ending - but for the moment this disabled Vietnam veteran with three Purple Hearts is a man without a country.
In 1960, at 16, Rudolph Thomas Sr. came to America with his grandmother from Trinidad. He lived in his grandfather's house on Decatur St. in Bedford-Stuyvesant and, after graduating Franklin K. Lane High, he was drafted into the United States Army on March 8, 1965.
He did basic training in Fort Gordon, Ga., advanced individual training at Fort Dix, and then volunteered for the Army Airborne jump school at Fort Benning, Ga.
"In 1967, I was stationed in Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne when I got my orders to go to Vietnam," says Thomas, who lives in Flatbush. "When I reported to leave they said they couldn't send me because I was not a United States citizen."
He remained at Fort Bragg and three months later they issued new Vietnam orders. "They said, ‘Congratulations, we've naturalized you as a U.S. citizen and you're going to Vietnam,'" he says. "They checked yes on the papers where it asked if I was a U.S. citizen."
Thomas went to Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne and saw heavy action in places with names like Bon Song, An Khe, Bar Tuey.
"The first time I got shot it was in the right ankle," he says. "I got sent to Cam Ranh Bay to recuperate. Then I went back into the bush and was shot in my left foot. I got laid up in the hospital again. I got my third Purple Heart from a landmine, taking shrapnel in my right knee, left buttock and left shoulder. It burned the pants off me."
After the third injury he was sent back to the States.
Rudy Thomas reenlisted, spent six years in the army and received honorable discharge papers that clearly indicate he was an American citizen.
He returned to Brooklyn where he receives a 40% disability pension for post traumatic stress disorder.
His son from his first marriage, Rudy Thomas Jr., became a New York City police officer.
"In 1980 I was hired by New York State Department of Labor under the veteran's readjustment program," the father says. "I have been working there since as a disabled veteran's outreach specialist."
On July 4, 1993, his police officer son was off duty, waiting for his fiancée to come out of a deli on Pennsylvania Ave. in Brooklyn when a gunman demanded his motorcycle. When he identified himself as a cop, the armed man shot Rudy Thomas Jr. dead.
In 2005, when his grandfather died in Trinidad - in his late 90s - Thomas applied for his first American passport.
"The people at the passport office looked at my army papers and told me that I could not have a passport because I was not a United States citizen," Thomas says. "I was shocked. They told me to go to 26 Federal Plaza to apply for citizenship."
In December of 2005 Thomas went and applied for citizenship to the country for which he'd fought in a foreign war.
"The woman there said the information on my military papers was inaccurate and that I was never naturalized," he says. "They opened a case and told me to go home and wait."
He's still waiting - and he never got to attend his grandfather's funeral.
Last week, he sent me an e-mail: "I am writing to you with the hope that this matter can be taken care of as soon as possible since it didn't take this long to send me to Vietnam and fight and shed blood for this country when so many others were running away and dodging service ..."
I called Shawn Saucier, a spokesman at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security.
"There is a provision of U.S. immigration law that enables us to move forward on Mr. Thomas' citizenship application pending a criminal background check," he said after doing some research.
"Typically someone has to be a Green Card holder for five years before being eligible to apply for citizenship, but there is a provision ... for certain military veterans who served in active duty during a time of war ... It could possibly happen in the next few weeks."
"If the background check goes well," says Saucier, "we're glad to help someone who put his life on the line to defend the United States to become a citizen."
"That's great news," Thomas says. "Especially since I thought I was a U.S. citizen for the last 40 years since I went to Vietnam."


No comments: