'The Littlest Defector' Grows Up

Elian Gonzalez's 6th birthday is tomorrow. His relatives insist he should celebrate many more in the U.S., because bringing him to Florida was his mother's final act. At this weekend's funeral for seven of those killed, tears were tinged with politics. Said one mourner, "The pain, the treachery, and the tyranny continue from 90 miles away, destroying and dividing Cuban families."

If Elian or his Miami relatives have any fears about his future in the United States, reports CBS News Jacqueline Adams, they need only look to the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines for reassurance and inspiration.

He was called "the littlest defector," and in 1980, 12-year old Walter Polovchak went to court to defy his parents, who wanted to take him back with them to the then Soviet Union.

"Once I got acclimated a little bit to America and seeing everything that was here, it was heaven to me," says Polovchak today. "Just the simple things that they had to offer: food in the stores, freedoms."

His case heightened Cold War tensions. For a 12 year old boy, it was simply terrifying. Looking back today, he recalls, "I was scared for my life, basically, because who know what would have happened if I would have been sent back."

Today, Polovchak believes Cuba's newest defector must be feeling everything he did. "Even at 5, the Gonzales boy realizes the freedom and opportunities that this country has to offer," he says.

Askled if children should be allowed to make such momentous decisions, Polovchak turns the questions around. "Do the parents have the right to make a decision for a child's future when it's so grim over there?"

Today, Polovchak's son Alec is just about the same age as Elian, and he cares nothing about international tensions.

As the holidays approach, Polovchak volunteers his time, cooking breakfast at the local community center. He knows how much his neighbors have given him.

"I got to stay in the United States and that was my dream," he says. "Anything after that was just an addition to the dream."

Twenty years from now, he hopes Elian Gonzales will be sharing the same dream.