My name is Peter Vodenka. In June of 1983, my wife and I, along with our four-year-
old daughter and two-year-old son, defected from behind the Iron Curtain of Communist
Czechoslovakia. In the middle of a cold, rainy night, we ran for our lives across the
border from Communist Yugoslavia to western Austria while being chased by guards
with automatic weapons.
We had spent ten years planning our escape. We had not told our families of our plan,
and left them and everything we owned behind. This was our way to protect them from
the wrath of our government, which we knew would follow if we were successful. If my
wife and I had been captured alive, we would have faced an automatic 10 year sentence
in a hard-labor prison camp with the most dangerous criminals. Our children would have
been taken and raised in government-run institutions. Since we would have been
labeled as political criminals, we would have never seen our children again.
Following our successful escape, we spent three months in a refugee camp in Austria
applying for entry into America. The process included interviews with the US Consul,
interrogations, and medical examinations. Then, we were notified that the First
Lutheran Church in Beach, North Dakota wanted to sponsor our family, and made our
dreams come true. We were FREE to enter the United States of America!
We arrived at our new home on September 7, 1983. We spoke no English and had no
idea what we would do to survive. One week later, I started my first job working for a
local pig farmer earning minimum wage of $3.35 an hour.
Today, I am the proud owner of a successful construction company. My wife, Lilly,
works for a prominent medical facility. Our daughter, Patty, graduated from college
with a degree in graphic design, and our son, Peter, joined the US Marines, and was in
the first wave of soldiers marching into Baghdad.
Since the 9/11 tragedy, I have felt strongly that Americans need to be reminded how
lucky they are to be FREE since I know what it is like to live under an oppressive
government. I have had the privilege of speaking in schools, churches, Boy and Girl
Scouts, veteran groups, business organizations, and on the radio.
From the dream of a teenage boy longing for freedom in a small foreign country years
ago - to living free in America and calling the American flag OUR flag and the Star
Spangled Banner OUR anthem. This is the ultimate version of an American dream...
The story combines all the basic components: hope, life threatening danger, children,
the struggle for freedom, a new beginning, and success.