September 28, 2010 in City

Woman, 86, decides ‘it’s about time’ to become U.S. citizen

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Mary Martha Surean, 86, recites the oath of citizenship Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in Spokane. She is assisted by her daughter Lisa Cordier, left. Surean, originally from England, married a serviceman in the Army Air Force during World War II.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

What a shame that Dan Surean didn’t live to see his lovely Mary finally become a U.S. citizen today.

“He would be absolutely in a joy world,” said Mary Surean, from Bedford, England, who at age 86 joined 44 other immigrants in taking the Oath of Citizenship before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno in Spokane.

“We talked about it many times,” Surean said. “‘Don’t you think it’s about time,’ he would say.”

But that was usually in the winter when there was time to think about such things. Come summer, there was much to do on the couple’s wheat farm near Havre, Mont., her adopted home.

Surean met her Yank on a Bedfordshire air base in 1942. Her friends had convinced her to take time out from her perpetual reading to come see a band perform there.

She was a sergeant in the Royal Air Force, and he was corporal in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Her unit was assigned to train Polish exiles to become pilots. He was a mechanic assigned to a B-17 bomber squad. It was his birthday.

“He couldn’t dance worth a hoot,” Surean recalled, “but he had such wonderful manners.”

They were married at St. Joseph Church in Bedford. There are so many memories, where does one begin?

“The Battle of Britain was absolutely horrifying,” Surean said. The fires started by the German incendiary bombs could not be extinguished with water, so there was sand in every room.

“We were all alone until America had Pearl Harbor and that’s when we got the good ol’ United States on our side,” Surean said.

She and her husband saw the last performance of Glenn Miller in December 1944 before the band leader’s plane was lost over the English Channel.

After the war, Dan Surean returned to the States and later sent for her to join him in Montana, where they had a baby boy.

Sometimes when her husband got upset with her she would remind him that she outranked him.

“I was planning to become a citizen then, but circumstances didn’t work out,” Surean said.

One cold Montana night as they lay together, the mother and child were overcome by carbon monoxide that seeped up from the basement.

“The boy died, and it set me back,” she said.

Later, she gave birth to a daughter, Lisa.

Dan died in Havre on July 4, 2002, and Independence Day hasn’t been the same since, Surean said.

Recently, Surean had a heart attack, so she has been recovering with her daughter and son-in-law, Lisa and Bob Cordier, of Spokane, who were with her today when she was naturalized.

“This is a wonderful country. In fact, it’s the best in the world,” Surean said.

Why did she decide to become a citizen now?

“Because of my daughter. She said, ‘Don’t you think it’s about time?’”


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