Veterans earn high school diplomas

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 12, 1999

After waiting 56 years, James Kuchera finally got something he sacrificed when he answered his country’s call to serve.

Friday, November 12, 1999

After waiting 56 years, James Kuchera finally got something he sacrificed when he answered his country’s call to serve. The former Albert Lean received his high school diploma at a Southwest Junior High Veteran’s Day ceremony.

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Scheduled to graduate in 1943, Kuchera left school and enlisted in the Navy to serve in World War II.

Not only did he sacrifice his diploma and graduating with the rest of his class, but Kuchera left behind his high school sweetheart. The pair were to graduate in 1943.

Though they had gone their separate ways, the love they felt remained. A generation had passed before the two renewed their relationship. James and Beverly Kuchera have now been married for 11 years.

Yesterday, 56 years after she graduated, Beverly proudly smiled as her husband and high school sweetheart received the high school diploma he might have earned with her.

James Kuchera said the ceremony at Southwest Junior High on Veteran’s Day brought closure.

&uot;It’s bringing up some unfinished business,&uot; said Kuchera.

He proudly stood before the students at SWJH and told them where he served. He went on to tell them that his father, Victor Kuchera, is the only living Freeborn County resident who served in World War I.

Saluting the flag, he said &uot;God bless America&uot; before receiving the diploma bound in a blue leather sheath.

Kuchera wasn’t the only veteran who had been waiting more than 50 years.

&uot;Fifty seven years ago, when I was 17, I dropped out of school to join the Marines. Fifty seven years later, I’m still waiting to join the Marines,&uot; joked Don Levisen.

He wasn’t able to enlist in the Marines. &uot;Guess I needed a high school diploma,&uot; he added. But Levisen did serve in the Army, and has never regretted the sacrifices he made for his country.

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

Participation in the program was left up to each school district. And Albert Lea Superintendent David Prescott, himself a veteran, felt the diplomas were well deserved.

&uot;Each of these men made a special sacrifice, They left high school, answering the call to fight for their country,&uot; Prescott told the junior high students. &uot;These Americans have had a lifetime of education.

&uot;They’ve honored us with their service and devotion. Let us honor them,&uot; Prescott said.

Traditionally, a presentation has been held every year with the eighth and ninth grades students as the audience. Prescott hoped presenting the diploma would have a greater impact on the students.

&uot;I hope they come away from this with an appreciation of the sacrifices and tough decisions these people made 50 years ago,&uot; Prescott said.

Each veteran introduced himself and told the students where he had served and with which branch.

&uot;We thought it would be a good way for the kids to connect, to get the kids to get a sense of who these people are,&uot; Prescott said.

All told, the school district awarded 13 diplomas Thursday. Diplomas were awarded to Kenneth Anderson, James Kuchera, Glen Hanson, Stanley Nielsen, Milo Peterson, Donald Levisen, Duane Hausman, Alton Dahl, Stuart Olson, Ethmer Wright, and Kermit Leidal. Mrs. Thomas Goskeson received the diploma on behalf of her late husband.