Scarborough Rotary Club

October 14th, 2014

Dejan Saric was just 10 years old when his father came home from work, told his family to quickly pack what they could carry and get into their car.  His family fled their home in Croatia that day.



Introduced by his co-worker and friend, Rotarian Jared Avery, Dejan was the guest speaker on Tuesday evening. Though he is now in his thirties, he had to pause several times during his speech as his recollections stirred 20 year old memories he now tries to keep at bay.

First he described a conversation he had with his long-time school friend. The ethnic war between Croatians and Serbs was beginning to escalate.  Though they had played together for years, the friend asked him “what he was”. He had never thought about it and didn’t know, so he went home and asked his mother.  She did not want to answer, and simply replied “you are Yugoslavian”. He persisted, and she finally told him he was a Serb.  The next day he went back to school and told his friend.  His friend announced they could be friends no more, and never spoke to him again.

Dejan recalled driving in the family car through a war zone. He heard machine guns. The truck in front of them was moving too slow, so his father took a different road. The truck stayed on the main road. Then it was shelled. The driver was killed.  “Because my father took a side road, I lived.” He paused again.

“We made it to the first refugee camp. I lived in three refugee camps and spent five years in them.” They did not see their father the entire time. His father became a soldier in the Serbian army, but survived and they were eventually reunited. The Serbs did not have a strong army before the war. Over a quarter of a million Serbs were run out of their homes during the course of the war. His family was lucky. His father learned about an immigration program. They applied and were sent to Portland, Maine, where they still live.

He had studied engineering in Croatia, but his credits were not transferable. First he had to learn English, then he had to start his academic work all over. He eventually graduated from USM with a degree in engineering. He now works at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. When asked if his experiences as a child living in a war zone made it troublesome to work with warships as an adult, he smiled and said “when you’re strong nobody bothers you. You don’t fight Arnold Schwarzenegger”. Dejan became a U S citizen in 2010.