New grads, veterans of life

Delayed diplomas: Servicemen of World War II honored 60 years later for interrupted education.

November 22, 2001

THE PIECES of parchment these veterans received 60 years too late are but a token, a long-postponed recognition of their sacrifice.

But with smiles and tears the 12 former soldiers and sailors proudly accepted their high school diplomas in graduation ceremonies held last week in Carroll County.

The delay of more than a half-century was caused by their enlistment in World War II, abruptly ending their schooling and their youth.

A Maryland law last year authorized school boards to award diplomas to World War II veterans who left school to join the armed forces. Carroll is the first county to hold full-blown graduation ceremonies.

"We owe them more than a high school diploma -- we owe them our way of life," school board member Thomas G. Hiltz, a Naval Reserve officer, reminded the audience at Century High School.

More than 8,000 WWII veterans in 36 states have received their belated diplomas in the past three years, in a movement of tribute that began in Massachusetts.

Locating surviving veterans who never got a diploma has been a major task for school systems. Not all are willing to volunteer they never officially graduated.

But the generations of family who cheered these old warriors, some wearing their military uniforms, left no doubt as to the sense of honor they felt.

As 76-year-old former Army flight engineer Wilbur E. Brown of Finksburg said with joyful pride: "It's something I dreamt of and thought about and just never thought would happen."

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