Hattiesburg welcomes new citizens

By: Colleen Donovan   Bio | Email | Twitter

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The privilege of being an American citizen is something those born in this country may not always fully appreciate.

That is not the case for 29 people who became new American citizens Thursday. While they were all born in 17 different countries scattered throughout the globe, each one of them worked hard to become a U.S citizen and share in the freedoms and opportunities this country provides.

"I feel wonderful," said Leo Zhang, who has lived in the U.S for seven years, and for the last year has served in the U. S Navy.

Another veteran of the U.S armed forces, Steve Dean Kuljis, was a prisoner at Auschwitz as a child and became a citizen during Thursday's naturalization ceremony at the U.S. District Courthouse in Hattiesburg.

Kuljis said he fell to his knees and kissed the ground when the 101st airborne dropped him off after being freed.

"I got a scar over here," he said, pointing to his wrist," taken off in Vietnam, it was a number. The guy said, 'You want this number seven?' I said, 'No, take it off - so he took it off."

Each one of these new citizens has a compelling story and individual reasons for wanting to become an American. For Judge Mike Parker, this ceremony is a rare departure from typical court proceedings.

"Everybody is happy, everything is positive and we are celebrating the accomplishments of someone as opposed to their failures," he said. "The folks that we've seen today put forth a lot of effort to become citizens of our country so I'm glad to be a part of it."

Following the presentation of individual certificates, the entire courtroom sang "The Star Spangled Banner."