For one new American citizen, a lifetime journey to naturalization

 Victor Gryszkiewicz, 65, of South Toms River, receives his naturalization certificate from officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in a ceremony on board the historic Battleship New Jersey in Camden. Gryszkiewicz is a Vietnam veteran who emigrated from Poland when he was just a year old. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY)

Victor Gryszkiewicz, 65, of South Toms River, receives his naturalization certificate from officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in a ceremony on board the historic Battleship New Jersey in Camden. Gryszkiewicz is a Vietnam veteran who emigrated from Poland when he was just a year old. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY)

July 4th is a day when many of us declare we’re proud to be Americans. For thousands of people across the U.S., it’s also a day to become American citizens.

This year, about 9,000 people were naturalized in ceremonies across the country, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

On board the historic Battleship New Jersey in Camden, 38 people took an oath of allegiance and received white and gold certificates. 

For 65-year-old Vietnam veteran Victor Gryszkiewicz, the road to citizenship was quite long. His family came from Poland when he was a year and five months old.

“I enlisted in the Navy in ’68, paid my taxes, did everything American citizens do and as far as I was concerned, this was official, but this was always my country.”

Gryszkiewicz said he’s glad to finally check becoming a citizen off his “bucket list.”

David Bongwele emigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo 11 years ago to study international relations. He now lives in Cherry Hill with his wife and their three children and works for the United Nations. 

“I was just sitting here listening to the speeches, looking at the setting,” Bongwele said. “It’s just a dream coming true.”

Eric Re Guerrero, 20, was born and raised in Mexico and came to California with his mother in 2008. He now serves in the military in New Jersey. 

Re Guerrero said many natural-born Americans don’t understand what immigrants go through to become citizens. 

“It’s a very long and very expensive process and it takes several years to do,” he said.  He said he’s thankful the process is streamlined for him and other members of the armed services.

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