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    West Towards Freedom: Hungarian Immigrant’s path comes full circle in Italy

    West Towards Freedom

    Photo By Gunnery Sgt. Brandon Thomas | Gunnery Sgt. Ferenc Silye jr, poses for a photo in front of Mt. Vesuvius during his...... read more read more



    Story by Cpl. Cameron Ross 

    22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit

    Gunnery Sergeant Ferenc “Frank” Silye Jr. was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1985. His first name roughly translates to “free man” in Hungarian, mirroring his parents’ efforts to shake off the shackles of communism and pursue freedom by immigrating to the United States of America.

    Frank stands around 5’7. He wears his jet-black hair with a combover and a clean fade. He is clean shaven as his profession demands. He sports a welcoming smile and his eyes gleam with a light of knowledge and experience. His Marine patterned uniform is pressed and neat in appearance and the rank insignia on his collar identifies him as a gunnery sergeant of Marines. Over his left breast pocket, the words U.S. Marines adorns his uniform and his family name, Silye, mirrors it on the right. Thirty-seven years ago, Ferenc sr. and his wife Irene would take the first steps to set their son Frank onto his current path.

    In 1987, two years after Frank’s birth, his parents began their departure from communist Hungary. They packed only their most precious possessions, leaving everything else behind along with their old way of life.

    “They decided to leave Hungary after realizing they wanted a different lifestyle. They were fed up with the government’s restriction on their lives,” explained Frank. “They took a train out from the capital heading west. My father said that the train went through Hungary and then modern-day Slovenia, which is where my mother’s from.”

    While they had many reasons to depart Hungary, his parent’s decision to leave was not without great risk.

    “There were risks of being essentially put on a list and arrested by the communists at the time. Also, asylum was not guaranteed when they left,” said Frank.

    After arriving in Latina, Italy in 1987 the Silye family stayed in the Foreign Refugees Camp of Latina, located two hours south of Rome.

    According to a documentary by Emanuela Gasbarroni, a journalist whose family helped host Eastern European refugees, the Foreign Refugees Camp of Latina opened a year after the invasion of Hungary in 1957 and remained open until 1989 around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was the largest refugee camp in Italy. The refugees passing through the camp were mostly from Eastern European countries, fleeing from Soviet totalitarianism. It would act as a gate way for refugees to gain entry to countries like, Canada, the United States and Austria.

    Over the years Frank spoke in length to his parents concerning their journey west. His parents told him their first night at the refugee camp they slept in the courtyard. The camp was not the most comfortable place, but the surrounding area was beautiful, and it offered the Silye family and opportunity to escape the constraints of their old lives.

    “I have a vivid image, I always thought it was a dream from when I was really small, running along this dirt path along the coast. I always thought it was a dream until I talked to my dad,” said Frank.

    The Silye family would leave the refugee camp in August of 1988, as their application for amnesty would be accepted by the U.S. government. They found their home in Hartford, Connecticut. They had finally made it to their destination but found that the American dream for some can be allusive.

    “My dad was putting himself out there as best as he could, but the certifications he received from Hungary didn't necessarily translate,” said Frank.
    Ferenc sr. and Irene had to overcome language barriers and find jobs that pertained to their skills. Before Frank’s father managed to break through and find a stable job at a machine shop, providing meals for his family was difficult.

    “I remember a lot of nights where I grew up, I'd go to sleep with absolutely zero food and would be starving. When I look back through old photos, I notice how tiny I was. I was basically skin and bones,” said Frank.

    Their struggles persisted but so did the Silye family. In due time, his father would become supervisor of the machine company and his mother would become a bank teller after a string of side jobs.

    “It took a lot of work and we’re really grateful for the opportunities given to us.” remarked Frank.
    These opportunities allowed the Silye family to move even closer to their dream, and Frank grew up in a world much different then that of his parents. His path would eventually lead him to United States Marine Corps.

    In 2006 Frank came to the realization that his life wasn’t working out how he planned. He decided he needed a change.

    “After I graduated high school, I was finding myself on the wrong side of the law and not exactly having much of a purpose or a sense of direction. As you can imagine, my parents weren't terribly happy about me enlisting. They were upset and didn't know what to expect,” said Frank.

    Frank contributes his rough upbringing with preparing him for military service.

    “It was tough coming up, definitely a lot of strife, but I think that helped me prepare for the challenge of boot camp. I was picked on a lot when I was younger because I came from somewhere else and it’s not really like that in the Marine Corps, we’re supportive of each other no matter where you come from,” said Frank.

    Frank has spent over a decade in the Marine Corps intelligence community, climbing through the ranks. He checked into the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in 2023, which presented him with a very unique opportunity.

    “Shortly after I arrived to the 22d MEU, I received orders to deploy to Naples, Italy in support of Task Force 61/2. I knew then and there I was going to go visit the refugee camp my family passed through so many years ago,” said Frank.

    Task Force 61/2 is a Marine Corps unit designed to control fleet Marine forces and assigned naval forces in Europe in support of U.S. 6th Fleet.

    “Visiting this place now nearly 40 years later was surreal. I did close my eyes and imagine sitting on the stairs I was photographed on when I was about 2-years old with my best friend. It was strange being in a place that you could feel you had previously visited,” said Frank.

    Being able to visit the refugee camp while deployed was an impactful experience for Frank.

    “It's interesting how you could tell when you've been somewhere before. It's almost like a past life. Being back in Italy feels very much like I’m at home” remarked Frank. “You’re able to come back and see something that that you've talked with your parents about in the past, it’s an amazing feeling. I feel like when I have conversations with them in the future there's going to be more context because I came back,” explained Frank.

    Frank took his time exploring the area. The refugee camp his family passed through all those years ago is now a university.

    “I ran to the corner that I recognized and was taken away. I looked at the photos again from when I was little, the ones that my mom had sent me and I was thinking that this is it. Even though I was only two years old when I was last here, I had a powerful connection to the area and I’m glad to have come full circle,” remarked Frank.

    Thirty-seven years later Frank was able to stand were his father stood in the realization of his parents hopes and dreams as an American citizen with a family of his own.

    “If I could get any message across to anyone reading this, it would be that I'm grateful for the opportunity the U.S. provided my parents and I. My parents may not have had a plan at first, but they stepped out on faith onto the path that led to our citizenship. We realized how lucky we were. With all the uncertainty in the world today, I'd tell others that you should never give up hope. As long as you have good intentions, a good work ethic, and the grace of God, you can achieve the American Dream,” said Frank.



    Date Taken: 04.14.2024
    Date Posted: 05.02.2024 07:56
    Story ID: 470089
    Location: NAPLES, IT

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