David Asman: Some of our greatest patriots are immigrants. My stepson Felipe is one of them

We don't often link patriotism and immigration in the same sentence. But we should. Some of our greatest patriots were immigrants. Alexander Hamilton was one. And so is my stepson, Felipe, who came to America from Nicaragua when he was 7 years old.

Felipe and his mother (my wife of 27 years) were escaping a communist dictatorship that threatened to force Felipe into military servitude at the age of 15. Felipe's mother was not about to allow this to happen, so she engaged in an elaborate plan with a gringo journalist to get out. She and Felipe literally left Nicaragua with just the shirts on their backs in November 1988 to start a new life with me in America.

It was a tough transition, particularly since Felipe spoke no English, had never experienced a cold climate, and, most painfully, had left his extended family and close friends behind. But he soon grew to love America...and his new family. He loved sports, music, and, was particularly drawn to all things having to do with the U.S. military.

We didn't have much money back then, so the only toy he had for his first year here was a G.I. Joe doll. He'd invent elaborate missions for his G.I. Joe, including the use of some twine he found to create repelling exercises, with tables and bookshelves substituting for cliffs.

When I asked him why he would be willing to sacrifice his life for a country that bungled his papers, he simply told me: “David, I want to earn my citizenship.”

When Felipe was 19 and in his first year of college, he shocked us all by announcing he would quit college to join the U.S. Marines. We didn't even realize it was possible for him to join because he wasn't yet a U.S. citizen. He should have been a citizen, but the immigration service messed up his papers.

When I asked him why he would be willing to sacrifice his life for a country that bungled his papers, he simply told me: “David, I want to earn my citizenship.”

But the biggest opponent we had to Felipe joining the Marines was his mother. Remember, her main reason for bringing Felipe here was to keep him out of the military.

In Nicaragua, the military represented everything bad about government...first with the boot-heeled National Guard of the Somoza dictatorship and then with the totalitarian secret police of the Sandinistas era.

To turn her around, Felipe and I introduced her to a number of Marines and Navy SEALS we knew she would love. Eventually she began to appreciate the fact that in America, the military represented the best, not the worst of government.

All this culminated in an early morning goodbye the morning after Felipe's 19th birthday, as he headed off to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. Felipe kissed his still-sleeping sister, had a long hug with his mother and then we both walked alone to the front door. Felipe hugged me and then said something I hadn't heard from him in about 5 years: "I love you, David." Somehow I managed to hold back the tears.

The years that followed changed us all enormously, most obviously with the 9/11 terror attacks. Felipe fought in two wars on account of the radical Islamic threat. My wife's constant prayers kept him safe, but he saw brothers killed and experienced all the horrors of war. But through it all, he had no doubts about what he had done and was doing for his adopted land...with one exception: He was still dying to become a citizen.

Eventually Felipe became a U.S. citizen while fighting for his country in Iraq. The ceremony was short and simple, but profound. It meant the world to him. Felipe followed through on his promise to earn his citizenship…more than so many of us who were just lucky enough to be born here.

God bless him and all patriots on this July Fourth.