Vietnam veteran still not recognized as US citizen

Process for 66-year-old to gain citizenship coming to an end

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - Stephen Holota was born in Germany to parents from Ukraine, yet neither country recognizes him as a citizen.

He has lived in the U.S. since he was 2 years old, more than 60 years, and served in Vietnam, yet he's not a citizen here either.

At age 18, Holota was drafted to serve in the Army in Vietnam. Now, at age 66, he is still not a U.S. Citizen.

He's been fighting to become one for 26 years and said the end is finally in sight.

"It seems like bureaucracy and red tape," Holota said. "It just gets worse and worse as the years go on."

"I would say, 'He's a Vietnam veteran,' and they would say, 'It doesn't matter. He goes to the back of the line,' said Cindy Holota, Stephen's wife.

On Tuesday, at American Legion Post 54 in Fernandina Beach, Stephen Holota was honored with membership into the legion. Jay Conti, the state commander, said the citizenship process for Holota has taken far too long.

"At the time, I think he thought he was a citizen of the country, and he did his duty as a citizen as any citizen would do in a draft," Conti said.

"When you're 22 years old, that's the last thing on my mind," Holota said. "I never considered the consequences. Now, it's really important. Later in life, you realize what's really important: family, friends, and for me, citizenship.

Holota said the process has been frustrating, with red tape holding it up so much that at one point he gave up on trying to become a citizen. Now that he is trying again, he said that becoming a citizen will be even more special.

"I can't wait," he said. "There is only a few days in your life that you will remember. That will be one forever. I'm really looking forward to it."

Holota said he has already completed the fingerprinting stage of gaining citizenship. Next up is the interview portion. His lawyer is trying to expedite the process so that he can be granted citizenship the day of his interview.

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