From left, Senior Airman Magdala Destima, of the Bahamas, Keith...

From left, Senior Airman Magdala Destima, of the Bahamas, Keith Bacchus, of Guyana and Emanuel Cira of the Dominican Republic and other members of the Military during a naturalization ceremony aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Barque EAGLE in New York. (Aug. 5, 2011) Credit: AP

Stephan Pierre can recall clearly the moment he came to live in the United States. He was 6 years old and had arrived at Kennedy Airport.

"I remember getting off the plane and running straight into my father's arms," said Pierre, now 33 and an Army Reserves specialist living in Canarsie, Brooklyn, "because I hadn't seen him in months."

Magdala Destima, 27, a senior airman with the Air Force, doesn't have as sharp a picture of the journey she took at age 9. "All I remember is being on the plane and not knowing where I was going," the Newark resident said.

Friday, however, was a day that both Pierre, a native of Haiti whose father immigrated to the United States before him, and Destima, a native of the Bahamas, said they'll never forget.

The two were naturalized in a ceremony aboard the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle, now docked in Red Hook, which included eight other service members in dress uniforms. Many had come to the United States as children.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano administered the Oath of Allegiance to the 10 representatives of eight countries and five continents. Afterward, Napolitano said that though she's hosted many naturalization ceremonies, "none is more special than when we welcome those who are already members of the military . . . those who loved this country so much they were willing to defend it on the front lines even before becoming citizens."

Pierre said becoming a citizen made him feel elated. Destima called it a "treasured moment."

Another new citizen, Army Spc. Viktor Bereziouk, 28, who was born in Russia and now lives in Sheepshead Bay, said he's "relieved that it's finally here. Eighteen years, I've been waiting for this."

Tido Holtkamp, 85, an Avon, Conn., resident who is originally from Wittmund, Germany, was on the Eagle to warmly congratulate the new citizens. He was on the ship as an 18-year-old German cadet.

Holtkamp became a U.S. citizen in 1953 in a Manhattan courthouse, but said he wished he had been naturalized on the Eagle, which he called "an old friend." Asked how he felt about the many countries being represented on the ship Friday, he said, "That's what America's about."

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