Adrian Barajas had always been willing to die for the United States.
But until Thursday, it wasn't his country.
Barajas, a native of Mexico, was one of 141 people from 56 nations to become U.S. citizens Thursday in a naturalization ceremony at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.
"I definitely believe in what this country stands for," said Barajas, an Army soldier who expects to ship off to Iraq next week. "And it stands for everything I believe in. I'm willing to do anything to serve it."
For Barajas, a 26-year-old stationed at Fort Riley, the date of Thursday's ceremony -- Sept. 11, two years after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast -- made the event even more special. He's lived in the United States since he was 11, but said Thursday marked the beginning of his true American life.
"This day is a great memorial day now for every American," he said. "Me becoming a citizen, being born to the United States, this day, I can think of no better day."
Having the ceremony on the two-year anniversary of the attacks was meant to serve as a reminder that the United States is open to everyone, said Deanell Tacha of Lawrence, chief judge of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Tacha delivered the address during the ceremony.
"We thought it was a very fitting way to honor those who lost their lives and those who survived," Tacha said. "We can use it as a forceful reminder of what brings us together -- our belief in the value of human life and the value of the rule of law."
With the world's largest stained-glass American flag and two 10-foot beams from the World Trade Center as a backdrop, each of those waiting to take their oaths of citizenship were called by name. They stood and announced their home country. A speaker at the microphone then repeated the country and told their occupation.
The new citizens came from all corners of the world -- from Argentina to Yugoslavia -- and represented six continents. They are students, attorneys, physicians, financial officers, fast-food workers, insurance underwriters, wardrobe consultants and entrepreneurs.
"I sit in awe of all of you and your accomplishments, your diversity and what you bring to this nation," Tacha told them. "You honor us and this nation with your desire to become citizens and especially by the struggle and sacrifice that brings you to this day."
Then, the new citizens recited the oath of citizenship, which includes vows that they will "support and defend the Constitution," "bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law" and "perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law."
Nina Kinti, a lecturer in KU's Latin American studies department, was among the new citizens. Kinti, 51, moved to the United States from Ecuador in 1979 to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
She said that after many years, she finally decided her life was in the United States, not Ecuador.
"I waited a long time," she said. "I realized I finally live here now. I have a husband here, a child here, I work here. This is my home now."
She said having the ceremony on Sept. 11 made it more about reflection and less about celebration.
"I didn't know what to expect," she said. "It's like graduating or something."
Brothers Ahmad Elnatsha, 21, and Rami Elnatsha, 25, became citizens together. The natives of Jordan who now live in Lawrence have been in the United States about six years. Ahmad is a KU student majoring in business accounting; his brother graduated from KU in 2002.
"We've been here the required five years," Rami Elnatsha said. "We felt we'd been here long enough. We feel honored to be a part of it. It's the natural step after having a green card this long."
Rami Elnatsha said being Muslim and having the ceremony on the 9-11 anniversary was symbolic for him.
"The circumstances, with everything that happened, and we're still welcomed," he said. "We feel nothing has changed really with the American people. Nothing changed -- especially on this date."