Just rewards Secaucus seeks to give diplomas to WWII vets
by : Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Jan 26, 2001 | 549 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Like many young boys in high school during World War II, Al McClure couldn't wait to graduate to join the military. He quit school and signed up, and later, when the war ended, he went straight to work.

"That's what you did back then," he said.

The economy was booming and soldiers were anxious to get on with life, get a job, by a house and raise a family.

Now, 55 years later, many of these people have grown gray. The average age of a World War II veteran is 77. Even the younger members are reaching a ripe age. McClure is 75. And while McClure doesn't feel he missed out on anything by not receiving his high school diploma, many veterans do.

Last November - to thank World War II veterans who quit school to fight - Governor Christine Whitman authorized school districts throughout the state to award honorary diplomas. The governor said that because these veterans responded to the nation's need and gave themselves selflessly, the state should give them something in return.

Whitman said many veterans had missed high school's milestones, and that looking back, they regretted not having experienced things like the high school graduation ceremonies or the senior prom.

In October, the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Department of Education jointly launched a program called "Operation Recognition" to honor those veterans. Under this program, school districts can award diplomas to veterans of World War II who left high school to serve between Sept. 16, 1940 and Dec. 31, 1946. This includes veterans of all branches of service including the Merchant Marines and Coast Guards.

Two teachers at Secaucus High School read about the program and decided they would like to help.

"We're trying to contact World War II veterans around the state," said Michael Germann, Director of the Secaucus Community Education. "It is our believe at Secaucus High School that one of our greatest resources, the American World War II veteran, is quickly being lost and, at times, forgotten."

Germann and civics teacher Michael Gehm said they set up the program after reading about it, hoping to recognize people they consider "great heroes of American history."

"Many gave up finishing high school to join the service," Germann said.

Not only will Secaucus give these men a diploma, they will also give them some of the pomp and circumstance they missed by holding a prom and graduation ceremony in their honor.

"We don't know how many of these veterans are out there," Germann admitted. "But we're looking for them and hope to hear from anyone who might know of someone."

While the graduation ceremony would be open only to those World War II veterans who did not receive a diploma because of their service, the prom will be open to all World War II veterans.

"We are looking to hold this celebration of honor and recognition in May or June," Germann said.

For more information or to provide information about someone who might qualify, please contact Germann at 974-2028 or e-mail webmaster@townofsecaucus.com.

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