WWII vets honored with diplomas

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 1, 1999

When Donald Levison dropped out of school his sophomore year to join the Marines and fight in World War II, he did so without his father’s blessing, and even his teachers told him he was making a mistake.

Sunday, August 01, 1999

When Donald Levison dropped out of school his sophomore year to join the Marines and fight in World War II, he did so without his father’s blessing, and even his teachers told him he was making a mistake.

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A bright student who enjoyed school, Levison knew he would miss it, but he also knew he was doing the right thing. Although he was disappointed that he never earned a high school diploma, he has no regrets about the decision he made in 1944.

Levison’s story is not unusual.

&uot;Quite a few left school at that time,&uot; said Veteran Services Officer Robert D. Sabin. &uot;When they came back, most of them didn’t have the time or the opportunity to go back to school.&uot;

Looking for a way to honor men and women who sacrificed their education to serve their country in WWII, the Department of Children, Families and Learning has initiated a program to grant those individuals a real – not honorary – high school diploma.

&uot;It’s a small token of the state’s appreciation. This is a way to recognize veterans for their efforts,&uot; Sabin said. &uot;I think it’s a pretty good program because they did give up a lot.&uot;

The state requested that each school agree to grant diplomas to all veterans who left school to serve in WWII. Participation by both the schools and the veterans is completely voluntary.

It’s likely not going to make a huge impact on the lives of WWII veterans, many of whom are retired and are in their 70s or 80s. But it may help to fulfill some lifelong desires.

Levison, for one, had always wanted to get his high school diploma.

&uot;When I got out of the service, I was into my 20s and I didn’t want to go back to school,&uot; Levison said. &uot;I really would have liked to have finished school. But the experience I got from being in the service, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.&uot;

In fact, it’s those life experiences MnCFL hopes veterans will share with today’s high school students, saying that awarding the diplomas is one way to bring &uot;living history&uot; to the schools.

The department is encouraging state high schools to present the diplomas at school assemblies on Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11, but schools can decide which day works the best.

Since many high schools veterans attended are now closed, MnCFL requests the public high school serving each hometown grant the diploma. Therefore, veterans who attended Kiester High School before joining the service could receive their diploma from United South Central.

Area school districts have presented the proposal at school boards and have been met with success. Albert Lea, Alden, Glenville-Emmons, NRHEG and United South Central have all signed on with the initiative.

Each school board may have placed restrictions individual to their districts, but the nature of the program is to grant diplomas to all WWII veterans who did not receive a high school diploma. That includes some vets who dropped out of school years before joining the service.

Sabin said he knows of many men who attended school only until the eighth grade before leaving school to work on the family farm. So even if that person left school at age 14 and didn’t enter the service until age 18, MnCFL still wants that individual to receive a diploma to honor service and sacrifices during WWII.

It certainly helps individuals like Levison, who quit school when he was 17, but didn’t join the Marines until he was 18.

&uot;I left school so I could go into the Marines, but if you weren’t 18, there was a form your parents needed to sign,&uot; Levison said. &uot;My dad said, ‘No, I’m not signing it.’&uot;

Levison, whose three brothers were already enlisted, had to wait until he was 18 and didn’t need his father’s permission to join the service. &uot;I wasn’t going to go back to school and tell the kids I wasn’t in the service. I worked on the farm until I could sign up,&uot; Levison said.

At the time, the government was also offering deferments to those who worked on a farm.

&uot;I had to write a letter telling them I didn’t want a deferment. I wanted to go into the Marines,&uot; he said.

Once he was allowed to join, Levison served in Europe, where he witnessed horrible fighting and destruction. But he has never regretted serving his country.

&uot;I was in the Fourth of July parade,&uot; said Levison who served as one of the grand marshals. &uot;We were surprised by the gratitude people showed. We never expected such an outpouring. It was one of the greatest experiences.&uot;

While that kind of appreciation makes Levison happy, he thinks the diploma is also a nice way to recognize veterans.

&uot;I have a son and grand kids who have one. I thought it would be nice to have one myself. It will be something nice I can hang on my wall,&uot; he said.

The diplomas can also be awarded posthumously, if next of kin wish to apply for the diploma.

Veterans who do want a diploma have to apply through the Veterans Services office; they will not be sought out. Although some school districts are trying to put the word out through their local Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters, veterans will not be contacted directly. A one-page form needs to be completed, with discharge records attached, and returned to Veterans Services in the courthouse. The office may able to help locate proper discharge papers.