Student unrest in Budapest, Hungary in 1956 launched a national uprising: The Hungarian Revolution against the Hungarian People’s Republic and dominance by the Soviet Union. It was the first people’s uprising since the Russians drove the Nazis out of the country in 1945 at the end of World War II.
Leslie Megyeri of Jacaranda Trace in Venice was a 15-year-old Hungarian high school student at the time. He joined the revolt with his father and they fought against the domination of his country by the Soviets. It was a lost cause that resulted in the death of thousands of Hungarians by the time the revolt was over. It lasted about 15 days.
“The Russians came into Budapest with tanks and infantry and shot up everything,” the 74-year-old former partisan recalled. “My dad, my brother and I were sniping at them off the roofs of apartment building.
“My dad decided it was time for the three of us to get out of there. We took a train to the Austrian border and then the three of us walked through a mine field to safety on the Austrian side. The Austrians were unbelievably kind to us. They took in about 150,000 refugees from Hungary at that time after the revolt.
“Three weeks after we arrived in Austria the Irish Red Cross took us to Dublin, Ireland. We lived with a very nice Irish family about 10 miles outside Dublin. Even though I was only 15, my father thought it would be a good idea for me to be in the Irish Army. I was a big kid with no papers so they took me into the Army,” Megyeri recalled more than half a century later.
The first foreign language he learned while serving in the Irish Army was Gaelic. All of their commands were in Gaelic. At first I though I was learning English,” he said. “Then I also learned English one word at a time.
“I remember marching down O’Connell Street in Dublin as part of the Easter Parade. I was a three-star private and very proud of myself as we marched in front of the old post office,” he said.
The problem with Ireland was there were few jobs available. In 1959 his father moved them to America.
“My father decided to move us to Washington, D.C. where he got a job. I had a very kind English teacher who knew U.S. Congressman Haley Staggers of W. Va. After graduating from high school the congressman arranged for me to get a scholarship to George Washington University in D.C. Four years later, in 1963, I graduated with a degree in economics.
“By then I was getting draft notices. I decided to join the D.C. Army National Guard. After basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. I returned to Washington and decided to go back to George Washington University and get a law degree. After graduating three years later I went to work in D.C. for the U.S. General Accounting Office.”
A while later, in 1968, civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a gunman in Memphis, Tenn. His death sparked riots in many of the larger cities around the country. D.C. was no exception. Megyeri’s military police unit was activated to help quell the upheaval in the streets of the nation’s capitol.
“It was a strange experience for me because in 1956 as a teenager I was on the rooftops in Budapest sniping at the Russians. But in 1968 in Washington I was in a U.S. Army military uniform taking fire from rioters in the streets,” he said. “I was the captain and company commander of an military police unit. The blacks were tearing up and looting downtown Washington.
“We weren’t allowed to returned fire. We were tear-gassing and arresting them. Then we would put them in temporary detention centers.
“As I recall my unit was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division in Washington. I think the riots lasted about 15 days in D.C. and 18 rioters were killed,” Megyeri said.
This was about the time he went to work for U.S. Congressman Sam Gibbons of Tampa.
“He was chairman of the subcommittee on the Ways and Means Oversight Committee,” he explained. “I really respected him.
“Gibbons told me that during World War II he was a member of the 101st Airborne Division and jumped during the D-Day Invasion into Normandy, France. He also told me he wanted to join the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA) but he couldn’t because he was too tall. They told him he would stand out in a crowd.”
By the 1970s Megyeri had advanced to a Major in the guard. He was the executive officer of the 260th Military Police Group comprised of two MP battalions.
It was about this time that Washington and many other cities around the country were disrupted by Vietnam War protesters.
“One of our unit’s jobs was protecting the White House. We slept in the old Executive Office building across the street from the White House,” he said. “During another one of our missions we protected the Capitol. On that mission we slept in the Capitol’s hearing rooms.
“My biggest problem was maintaining discipline in my guard unit. Some of my guys sided with the protesters. Some of them were pretty upset about arresting these protesters.”
Sometime in the mid-1970s Megyeri switched from working for Congressman Gibbons to working for Congressman Jack Brooks of Texas who eventually became the head of the House Judiciary Committee.
“He was very close to President Lyndon Johnson. The president would call our office and tell the secretary who answered the phone, ‘Give me Jack.’
“She would ask, ‘Who is this?’
“‘Get off your ass! This is your Commander in Chief,’ he would scream.”
One of his last military assignments was in the Pentagon.
“Because I spoke Hungarian, I was assigned to work for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. I worked the Hungarian and Russian Desk. Mainly I attended receptions at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington and collected as much pertinent information as I could.
By 1993 Megyeri retired from the D.C. National Guard and retired as a lieutenant colonel. About the same time he quit his day job as a Capitol Hill attorney.
He and his wife, Kathy, visit their Venice condo in March and November each year. The rest of the time they live in the Washington, D.C. area.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 4, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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