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Arthur E. Flegel, Recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award

18 May 2007

By Arthur E. Flegel, Menlo Park, California


As a 90 year old son of simple German immigrants who came from Russia through Ellis Island in 1899, the opportunity of participating in the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor event was indeed a most extraordinary experience.

This gala affair was created by the NECO (National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations) in 1986 following reconstruction and refurbishment of both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty under the famous Lee Iacoca, and was designed to pay tribute to the ancestry groups which comprise America's unique cultural mosaic.

Both the United States Senate and House of Representatives have officially recognized the Ellis Island Medal of Honor as one of the most prestigious awards to be presented to a select group of 100 individuals annually after screening some 1,000 original applicants.

To qualify, a recipient of the award must satisfy the following criteria:

"Exemplifies a life dedicated to community service. Preserves and celebrates the history, traditions and values of his/her ancestry group. Dedicates himself to support and defend the values of American life. Builds bridges between ethnic, racial and religious groups in the USA and/or abroad. Shares his personal and professional gifts for the benefit of humanity."

In conjunction with the two day's festivities, Friday evening, May 11, was spent in a gala reception at the swank Metropolitan Club in New York City which enabled the medalists with their familes and guests to meet people from all over the nation and all walks of life.

On Saturday, May 12, following preliminary activities for awardees at the plush Ritz Carlton Hotel, their families and guests were transported at 5 pm by ferry to the huge tent that accommodates 1,000 individuals which was erected for the occasion on Ellis Island adjacent to the Statue of Liberty Island. Shortly afterwards the honorees were also ferried to the same location and were auspiciously escorted upon a red carpet into the ceremonial tent.

The ceremony itself was heralded with outstanding pagentry reflecting honor guards from every branch of the military who paraded and very expertly presented themselves accompanied by the US Military Band, an awesome display. Excellent vocal renditions were offered by a trio of women as well as a female soloist. Following short speeches by NECO members and other dignitaries, the presentation of the impressive Ellis Island Medals of Honor took place.

All medalists and their guests were ushered into the refurbished Great Hall where our ancestors had disembarked from their long voyages and initially went through the immigration process. Seated with families and guests in the dining hall on the second floor that was filled to capacity, we were again aware of the scope of this event and its historical impact.

It was nearly midnight during a light rain when we boarded the ferries to return to our hotels. Through the windows of the ferry we could see the very colorful Grucci fireworks display, all of which combined to create a lasting impression of a memorable event in the lives of the participants as well as their families and guests.

In closing, I want to affirm that my participation in this outstanding event may never have happened were it not for the efforts of a very able lady and cherished friend, Kay Boynton, who not only entered my name, but through her personal perserverance encouraged others to submit statements of endorsement in my behalf for which I am deeply grateful, all of which culminated in Arthur Flegel being selected as a recipient of the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor award.

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North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
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Director: Michael M. Miller
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