I was 11 years old and really didn't know what to expect. Our family and friends, along with my classmates, had all gathered at the railroad station in my hometown of Norrtälje, Sweden, ready to begin our long journey to a new life in the United States.

It was 1950, and my images of America revolved around Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and the other cowboy heroes I saw at the "Royal," our local movie theater. Luckily my parents were better informed. They were also well prepared, having secured sponsors and the promise of a job from a wonderful couple living in the village of Long Grove, just outside Chicago, Illinois.


My mother and I knew very little English, though my father was fairly proficient. He had initiated the immigration process by advertising in the major newspapers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, in hopes of securing a position as caretaker/gardener with sponsorship. The Chicago ad was the winning ticket. After numerous letters back and forth with our prospective sponsors, the American embassy, Swedish government officials, we were finally on our way.

The first phase of our long journey began with a two-hour trip to Stockholm, where we spent several days with close family members before continuing to Göteborg. There we boarded the Swedish American Lines (SAL) ship, the M/S Stockholm.

Although there had previously been several ships named "Stockholm," this was the new, sleek model from 1948 and the only SAL ship built in Sweden at the Götaverken Shipyards in Göteborg. (Many people will recall this same ship was involved in the disastrous collision with the Italian liner, the Andrea Doria in July 1956.) On November 28, as the Swedish national anthem was playing, we waved farewell to family, friends and many on-lookers, and the M/S Stockholm slid away from its berth, and headed west.

My mother was leaving behind her mother, brother, nieces and nephews and a huge group of close friends. I didn’t realized until later in life how much she gave up. She followed my father's dreams and ambitions, and never complained. Luckily, they would both be able to return to visit Sweden a number of times.

Late November was not the perfect time to cross the Atlantic Ocean. In the pages of my mother's diary from the voyage, I have read that I was seasick the majority of the trip, as was my mother. My father didn't miss a meal and thoroughly enjoyed the voyage, despite the huge waves that made the majority of the passengers seasick. I can still recall one of the waiters pouring water on the tablecloth during dinner, in order to prevent the dishes from sliding off the table. We passed one of the SAL sister ships heading east, and everyone gathered on the deck to wave as we sailed in opposite directions. In the play, "Kristina från Duvemåla," there is one song called "Hemma," in which Kristina laments seeing the Swedish flag on a passing ship heading back to Sweden. I fully understand now how my mother must have felt at that moment.

In the early hours of December 7, my mother awakened me to say we were approaching New York, and that we were all going up on deck to see "Frihetsgudinnan," otherwise known as The Statue of Liberty. I wish I could re-live that moment to fully digest the importance of that occasion. For many of the passengers coming from the Soviet occupied countries, it had very special meaning.

The American authorities came aboard and reviewed all our documents, which were all in order. We disembarked the ship and placed our feet firmly on American soil — even though it was likely concrete! SAL had made reservations for us at the Wellington Hotel in mid-Manhattan, and after a round-about taxi ride through New York City, we could finally relax in our room. We spent a couple days visiting relatives in Brooklyn and Staten Island before boarding a Greyhound bus, destination Chicago.

In reflecting on this experience, I am amazed and so impressed by my father’s ability to guide our family through the maze of the immigration process, to arrive at our destination safely.

Waiting for us at the Greyhound Bus Station in Chicago were our sponsors, Otto and Florence Koch, who greeted us warmly, and remained our friends long after my parents and I became U.S. citizens and firmly absorbed in the American experience.

That all happened 75 years ago. My parents are both gone, after living good, fruitful lives and achieving happiness and financial success. (It is noteworthy to mention that before my father died, he achieved a personal goal — not unlike that of others in his era of immigrants — of driving his own Cadillac to his own condo in Florida.) I have been happily married for over 53 years, served in the U.S. Air Force and was able to retire at age 56 from a good profession. My wife and I have a wonderful, well-educated son, who also appreciates our Swedish heritage (and even drives a Volvo).

I love my adopted country. I get teary-eyed when I hear “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America.” That doesn't mean I have abandoned my native land, however — I also love Sweden and the customs and traditions our family carried with us on our journey those many years ago. In the musical "Chess" (created by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, the most outstanding and talented composer and lyricist of our time), the first act closes with these lyrics: "My land's only borders lie around my heart."

When you listen to this song, you will understand.