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Notable Americans Honored at Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards - 2003-04-11

Notable Americans who trace their roots to New York's world famous port-of-entry, Ellis Island, were honored Thursday, as part of the 2003 Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards.

It was an emotional occasion for honoree Cicely Tyson. The African-American star of stage and screen, widely praised for her portrayal of strong women, is perhaps best known for her role in the epic 1977 television mini-series, Roots.

She says her parents lived not far from one another in the British West Indies before moving to the United States in the early 1900s. "They met here, married, and had three children, my brother Melrose, myself, and my sister Emily. I am the sole surviving member of that family," she said, " and I am so grateful to the Foundation for taking this time, to give me this moment, to thank my parents. For giving birth to me in one of the greatest countries in the world. I am so proud of them, and I am proud to be an American. "

Ms. Tyson's parents were among more than 12 million immigrants that passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

The same is true of the parents of American baseball legend, Yogi Berra. As a member of the New York Yankees, Mr. Berra won 10 World Series titles, and was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

He finds the commemoration of his parents' journey to the United States, from Italy just after the turn of the century, an emotional event.

"I'm not very good at making speeches," he said. " All I can say is my mother and father would be very proud of me today. I'm very emotional, I can't help it. They would really be proud of me today. I can say one thing I'm glad they didn't miss the boat."

Mr. Berra, who is known for his unintentional witticisms, was the originator of the popular sayings, It ain't over until it's over and, It's like déjŕ vu all over again.

Sergeant Abie Abraham was also honored. The World War II veteran's parents emigrated from Syria in 1902, and he says he is grateful to them for making the move.

"If they didn't come to this country, I would be in Syria attending a bunch of sheep," he said. " Anyway, when they came to this country, they had fear. But they had hopes."

Sergeant Abraham and his regiment endured the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942 after being captured by the Japanese Army in World War II. Over 4,000 of his fellow prisoners of war died in brutal and inhumane conditions in the ensuing years of captivity.

Pioneering AIDS researcher, Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose grandparents came from Italy, was also honored, as was entertainer Bob Hope, who came through Ellis Island from England as a child in 1908, and will turn 100 this year.