Listen: A refugee’s choice: Harvard or the military?

Jeff Severns Guntzel
Senior reporter
Public Insight Network
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We’ve already introduced you to Peter Orazem, the economist in Ames, Iowa, who also serves on the city council there and moonlights as a standup comedian.

In our earlier piece, Orazem talked about being involved in his community – an ethic he learned from his parents, who fled their native Yugoslavia and eventually found their way to the United States.  Now Orazem shares his father’s remarkable story.

The elder Orazem was still a teenager when he arrived in the U.S. after spending time in a refugee camp in Austria. It was 1950, and America was getting embroiled in the Korean War.  Six months after Orazem got to the States, he got two letters on the same day.

One was a letter drafting him into the military.  The other was a letter accepting him into Harvard University.

Not sure what to do, Orazem went to his local draft board for advice.  If he wanted to become a U.S. citizen, he was told, he’d have a much better case if he stepped up to serve the country. You can hear about his decision, and how it played out, in the interview posted above.

The Orazems’ journey got me thinking about the history of military service as a path to citizenship in America – then and now. It’s a thread I want to pull through some reporting and a new Public Insight Network query. I’d like to hear your own family’s immigration stories. Specifically, I’m interested to know if anything about Peter Orazem’s story resonates with your own history. You can tell us all about it using this form. If you don’t have a story to share but know somebody who does, please pass this link along! And thank you.