Alexander Asboth fought the monarchy in his native Hungary, battled the Confederacy in his adopted homeland, helped design New York's Central Park and served as U.S. ambassador to Argentina. And when he died 122 years ago, his last wish was to be buried in American soil.
Asboth came home yesterday to full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His remains were exhumed recently in Argentina after a campaign by Hungarian Americans, who regard him as a hero.
"It's a tremendously symbolic Civil War story," said Edward J. Derwinski, secretary of veterans affairs. "Particularly now, when there's so much interest in the Civil War, it's symbolic that the group of people who fled the communists in Hungary can have one of their heroes back here among them, someone who fought for freedom of people in this country."
Born in 1811, Asboth fought in the unsuccessful revolutionary war of 1848 against the Hapsburg empire. Exiled to this country, Asboth settled in New York, working as an engineer and architect.
"If he could not live freely in Hungary, he said, then he would live freely in the United States," said Istven Gereben, executive director of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Asboth joined the Union forces, serving in Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky and Florida. After a decorated military career, he retired from active service with the rank of major general.
President Andrew Johnson then named Asboth ambassador to Argentina, where he died in 1868 at the age of 57.
"Originally he wanted to be buried along the banks of the Hudson in New York, which is where he owned property and where he felt at home," said Sandor Asboth, 22, a great-great-grand-nephew and a member of the Virginia National Guard. "But I think having the ceremony here is a great solution. He would have been quite happy with it."
On behalf of family members who are spread throughout Canada, Romania, Hungary and the United States, Sandor Asboth received the folded American flag that draped the coffin. The family is spread throughout Canada, Romania, Hungary and the United States.
Asboth was accorded a caisson drawn by a white horse, the playing of taps and a riderless horse, the symbol of a fallen military hero.
"In his homeland, the winds of freedom are blowing," said Bela Bernhardt, a pastor and friend of the Asboth family. "What he fought for and what he lived for in an indirect way bears fruit in this land, and now bears fruit in his homeland."
The date of the burial coincided with the Hungarian uprising of Oct. 23, 1956, which was crushed by Soviet troops.
The Washington area has only a small Hungarian population, probably numbering no more than a few hundred, Gereben said. But Asboth's reburial is symbolic for them, he said.
"It gives inspiration to those Americans in the U.S. of Hungarian descent, of how to be committed to this country and still remain concerned for and committed to the old country," he said.