“In recognition of the significance of this date to the relationship between our Nation and the Federal Republic of Austria, and in gratitude for the many gifts that Austrian Americans bring to the life of our country, it is appropriate that we pause to celebrate Austrian-American Day.”
”I encourage all Americans to recognize and celebrate the important contributions that millions of Americans of Austrian descent have made—and continue to make—to our Nation's strength and prosperity.”
Proclamation 7027—Austrian-American Day, 1997
Today, September 26, marks Austrian-American Day, which was officially proclaimed by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997. Ambassador Helmut Tuerk, who served as Austria’s highest diplomat in the U.S. back then, recollects the back story.
In celebrating this very special day, we introduce you to a less known Austrian-American, Vienna-born Elizabeth Morris, 90 years of age, from Herndon, Virginia. Read her noteworthy life story, told by aviation journalist Douglas Nelms:
Ada Maria Elisabeth von Rodakowska was born on January 16, 1928, in Vienna. Elisabeth, or Elizabeth as she now spells it as a U.S. citizen, spent her pre-teen years like any young Austrian girl growing up in the beautiful and exciting city on the Danube.
Until everything changed because of World War II: The family had to move three times because of damage to their apartments caused by allied bombing, walls damaged or windows blown out. They carried their small valuables with them, but entrusted large items such as furniture and artwork to friends living in the countryside, where they would be safe. And they were--until the furniture and art were burned by the Russians to keep warm.
The war years were fairly difficult, since her father, Felix von Rodakowski, had worked at the American Embassy before the war. When that job went away the stigma of working for the Americans prevented his finding a new job. And while the Germans ate well, rationing was levied against the Austrians, sometimes forcing them to stand in lines for hours for food, only to find that there was nothing left, Elizabeth said.
However, her grandmother “was very creative” in her efforts to continue to make Austrian sweets with the ingredients they could get, “even though the results were not always pleasant.”
After the war, Elisabeth went to work for Pan Am as a ground hostess at Tulln Air Base, a joint military/civilian airport. There she met 1st Lt. Reed Morris, a U.S. Air Force pilot. They were married in 1949 in Vienna, then moved to the United States when Lt. Morris was assigned to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. This was followed by the typical re-assignments of a career Air Force officer, moving from one Air Force base to another.
LTC Morris retired in Florida in 1965, and has now passed away. Elizabeth worked in the Melbourne Public Library system for 28 years, rising to the position of Director of Circulation. She continued to live in West Melbourne until moving to Herndon, Virginia, in 2014 to live with her older daughter and son-in-law.
All photos (c) Elizabeth Morris