By Abby Gibbs
Continued from: Don’t Stop Walking – Part One
…The family was overjoyed to have hay-bales to sleep on and food to eat as they shared that barn with the farmers cows. Early the next morning they began another day, walking.
A the Netchaeff family made their trip Nick recalls hearing machine gun fire. He remembers his Dad telling them to “hug the trees” and hide. Eventually they came across a train where they hopped on and traveled to Innsbruck, Austria. On arrival they walked another 15 miles to the next village of Garmisch. The village is very close to the German border, cities divided by the railroad.
The first night in the village, Nick recalls the family sleeping on bales of hay. In the morning they saw American Jeeps everywhere they looked, like “ants” as Nick describes. He thought they were the ugliest cars he had ever seen. One of the Jeeps stopped close to the hay where they had slept the previous night and asked the family where they were from
Nick’s Dad responded: We are Russian
The American soldiers response? Good!
The Netchaeff family settled in the village of Garmisch in Austria for over four years where his father, brother, and mother worked in a factory. They were able afford food, have clothes to wear, and a place to sleep.
Nick’s father began writing letters of application to various countries in South and North America. A neighbor from Yalta who had become a citizen of the United States made contact with them through a relative and they began the sponsorship process to travel to the U.S. In the 1950’s no person was permitted into the U.S. without a sponsor who was responsible for the person whom they’ed sponsored on arrival.
After months of paperwork, while waiting for clearance, the family was approved to go to America to their sponsor. In October of 1950 their family traveled to America on a the USS General W. C. Langfitt. They could not have any medical issues, nor affiliation with the Communist Party, and only the parents and children were allowed admittance. The trip took 10 days from their departure in Munich, Germany to New York City in the United States of America. During the journey, they experienced a hurricane that drove the route south. Nick and his Mother went to the deck during the storm and watched as they arrived safely to their destination. It was early morning in New York City, and the family stood and watched as they passed the Statue of Liberty. This had been an incredible moment for their family. Nick recalls seeing all the lights of New York City and being amazed as their ship approached. He had never seen so many lights.
As they departed, Nick remembers the family getting $5.00, a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and a handshake. They were told “good luck!” . Think about that; $5.00, a cup of coffee, a doughnut, a handshake, and “good luck!”.
In 1950, there were strict laws regarding immigrant admittance into the country. If you had no sponsor, there was no admittance. Luckily their sponsor was waiting and picked them up in a 1937 Packard. Nick recalls the Packard looked like a limousine, in that hat moment he decided they must be rich.
They lived with the sponsor for two weeks. George was having trouble sleeping with the noise of traffic and the bright lights of the city. They learned about a village in the North Shores of Long Island called Sea Cliff where there was a prominent population of Russian immigrants. Their sponsor drove them to Sea Cliff again with only the clothes they wore and no money to speak of.
Nick’s father got a job with a lumber yard and his brother George got a job doing body repair for the Ford dealer in the village. They were able to rent a small apartment and begin to provide for the family. They stayed in regular contact with their sponsor, as required. Nick’s Dad learned English speaking and writing. His Dad was a gifted architect and he became acquainted with two Jewish contractors in Levittown. Eventually Nick’s father became partners in contracting and design.
Once the family moved to Sea Cliff they stayed. The boys attended school and remember being called “Commis” by the kids in their school. Eventually, Nick’s Dad was able to save enough to begin a new home in Sea Cliff. However, he passed away at the age of 57 before finishing the home.
George finished his degree in Civil Engineering while working full time and is a building inspector for the state for 25 years. He inspected bridges, airports, etc. for the State of New York. George then finished the home his father had begun. Their mother lived with George until she passed away at the age of 80.
Nick was not as committed to school as brother, George. However, he recalls his Mother reminding him when he was in High School it was time for him to get his life together. He completed school and decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy to serve his new country. With Nick not being an American Citizen, he was denied admittance into the Navy. But he didn’t give up, a quality of resilience constantly prevalent in the Netchaeff Family. Nick joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954 and served until 1958.
In 1956, he applied for American Citizenship. Nick studied for months on his test and was extremely nervous. He remembers being so anxious about recalling the answers he had rehearsed. When Nick went before the Judge he was called forward and asked questions about his journey from Russia to American. He freely shared the answers. When the Judge finished, he was asked if he had any questions and he replied:
when are you going to ask me the questions I studied?
The Judge responded: the conversation they had shared was the test he was given, He had now become a United States Citizen. George had also become a Citizen during his time in the U.S. Army. Their mother did not pursue citizenship.
Nick displays his Citizenship Certificate on the wall of his home. During the time he served in the Air Force, he was stationed at Donaldson Air Force Base for 3 years. He met and married his wife, Judy who was a Greenville native. As many families experienced during these years the jobs in textiles decreased and Nick was forced to return to New York to work in computer services and rent an apartment while Judy lived with her parents until he could bring her to New York. It was there that Nick and Judy had 3 children: Nick Jr, Julie, and Paul.
In 1969 the family returned to South Carolina with the promise of work for Nick. Upon their arrival, the job was no longer available. So Nick got a job as an electricians helper digging ditches and learning all he could to advance. Again, showing the resilient spirit and determination to provide for his family just as his parents had provided for him. However, the trip from New York to South Carolina did not involve any walking or sleep on hay-bales.
Nick was hired on the dock for Brown Trucking Company and kept learning and training until he was able to drive the trucks to the docks for loading. Eventually he became a licensed driver and worked with the company for almost 20 years. Brown Trucking Company closed and he lost his pension and benefits with years remaining until retirement. He was referred to a new company, Exel Logistics, and worked there as a driver until he retired in 2004.
The most life-changing event for Nick in his recent years was the loss of his wife Judy in 1985. His world changed drastically. He learned a new resilience and a different walk, one alone and without Judy, while at the same time growing closer to his children and grandchildren.
In 2005, Nick was diagnosed with diabetes and advised to go on medication with possible insulin injections unless he changed his lifestyle. Again, the Netchaeff resilience and determination kicked in and he began to re-learn something from his childhood…..WALKING! His stamina had decreased since he was that little 7 year old but it didn’t take long for him to build up to 2 miles a day. Nick is on no medications and a member of the YMCA where he visits 3 times a week.