Ullah Jr. wishes he had accompanied his father on that long trek home. He is 70 now and doesn't think he will ever step foot on his father's homeland.
"I have a whole family I have never met, and will never meet," he said. "Now my father has passed away. His brother is gone. The lines of communication are gone."
Curry on the stove
Chowdry became a key figure in New York. He lobbied Congress to change naturalization laws of the 1940s, connected with African-American Muslim groups in Harlem as well as Jewish and Christian leaders.
At age 32, he married Catherine, a 17-year-old woman who was born in Cuba to Puerto Rican parents, and had two children, Laily and Noor.
Ibrahim Chowdry became a key figure in New York's Bengali community, sort of a "go to" man.
Both Laily and Noor recalled a father who was busy; that he became the guy to call in the Bengali community. He was always rushing out of the house.
Except one day when Noor Chowdry had gone to the Bronx Zoo and come back with a 15-inch catfish he'd caught in the lake. His father was about to leave the house, but when he saw that fish, he took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and got a knife out.
Bengalis are known as fish lovers and Ibrahim Chowdry could not give up the thought of a spicy fish curry.
John Ali Jr. also remembers that Bengali food was the one constant from the homeland.
His father, Mustafa "John" Ali, like Chowdry, also came to play an important role for Bengali men in the industrial towns where he worked, including Chester, Pennsylvania, home to a Ford car factory and the Sun Shipbuilding plant along the Delaware River.
Ali learned English from listening to the radio and helped "anchor the broader network of escaped seamen in a series of key locations," Bald wrote.
Ali Jr., 83, remembers his father always having a pot of curry and rice on the stove's back burner. Just in case any of the Bengalis stopped by.
Ali Jr., who wrote on the last census that he was a "black Bangladeshi," moved to Atlanta almost three decades ago, where he settled in the mostly black southwest neighborhood of Cascade. He married a black woman, as had his father, and never saw himself as anything else. In his tenure in the Army, he'd always been colored.
In his youth, he read a lot of Indian history, about independence and the infamous, 18th-century Black Hole of Calcutta incident in which prisoners suffocated in a dungeon.
He recalled his father listening to news about India on the radio and translating it for his fellow Bengalis who did not know English.
"I thought I would see Bangladesh one day," he said. But he never did.
His father returned to his hometown of Sylhet in the 1960s after his wife's death. "I was surprised he went back," Ali Jr. said. "He got homesick."
Shortly after, his father died on his way back from Haj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage, in Saudi Arabia.
Ali Jr. says there was always a pot of curry on the stove when he was growing up in case Bengali visitors showed up.
These days, he sees Bangladeshis running the corner gas station or convenience stores in his neighborhood.
"Salam alaikum," they greet him.
"Alaikum salam," answers Ali.
It's not difficult to see why the Bengalis would assume this black Catholic man is one of their own. But beyond the universal Muslim greeting, Ali can say nothing to them in Bengali.