Sometimes the path to citizenship is a very long one…
Fofomaitulagi Tuitele joined the Marine Corps when he was 18 years old and served for more than 20 years.
‘Fofo’– as he’s known to his close friends and family– grew up in the US territory, American Samoa, but bounced around from there to Hawaii after his father died.
He says he was inspired to join the military after watching “too much combat movies” during the 1960’s. Fofo went on to receive a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.
After his time in the military came to end, Fofo spent another two decades working for the U.S. Postal Service. To his surprise, when he applied for a passport a couple of years ago, KOAT reports, Fofo learned that he was not a U.S. citizen.
The U.S. national said it never really occurred to him that he wasn’t an American. He says he doesn’t need a piece of paper to tell him what his heart already knows.
Nevertheless, retirement was ahead and he and wife were very much looking forward to taking some international cruises. Besides, he says, “I already paid my dues, so it’s just putting the icing on top for those dues.”
So, in his late 60’s, Fofo finally took the steps to achieve naturalization and less than 24 hours after officially becoming an American citizen, he registered to vote.
Some of Fofo’s friends surprised him with a citizenship service at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial, KOAT reported. He says that’s when the emotions really hit him and he broke down in tears. The ceremony included a small coming home parade — something he never got when he returned home from Vietnam.
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