Pa. man a graduate at last

June 11, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - When Fred Peiffer walked across the Greencastle-Antrim High School stage to get his high school diploma last Wednesday, he knew he was experiencing one of life's precious moments.

The diploma was 60 years in the making.

Peiffer, 76, of 510 N. Allison St., was supposed to have graduated with his Greencastle-Antrim High School class in June 1945. It was the summer of 1944, World War II was raging and Uncle Sam needed 18-year-olds.

"I was drafted," Peiffer said. "I turned 18 March 26. I was still in high school on D-Day."

Instead of beginning his senior year with his classmates in September 1944, Peiffer was in the middle of 17 weeks of basic training at Fort Blanding in Florida.


He was assigned to the 69th Infantry Division and sent to Europe, a trip that took about 48 hours, he said.

"The Battle of the Bulge was going on and they needed men in a hurry. We were training in Florida for jungle warfare and I thought I was going to the Pacific. Instead I found myself in the snow in Belgium. I never dreamed I'd be in the war," he said.

He missed the Battle of the Bulge and was sent to the Belgian-German border where his outfit was fighting its way across Germany. It was the 69th Infantry that met up with the Russians at the Elbe River, but Peiffer wasn't with them.

He was wounded April 15 and was still in the hospital when Germany surrendered less than a month later.

He spent the rest of 1945 and early 1946 helping to process German prisoners of war. He was discharged in May 1946 and came home to Greencastle.

He and his wife, Betty, whom he met at the Cold Spring Park roller skating rink in Waynesboro, Pa., in 1946, were married in December 1947. They have two children and three grandchildren.

Peiffer's high school dream was to become a doctor, but he knew his family could not afford to send him to college. He was ninth in a family of 13 children. His father died when he was 6. Four of his brothers served in the war.

"I was the only one to get a scratch," he said.

Peiffer worked for the Moller Organ Co. for two years after his discharge, then worked 12 years for a Waynesboro plumbing contractor before getting a job at Letterkenny Army Depot. He retired from there in 1986 as a supervisor of three departments.

He always felt he could have done better if he had his high school diploma.

"It had an effect on what I wanted to do. It always worked against me," he said. "You had to really prevail to get there without it."

Pennsylvania law allows local school districts to present diplomas to those who never got to graduate because of military duty in World War II, Peiffer said.

He wore a graduation gown, but no hat when he joined the Greencastle-Antrim High School Class of 2002 on graduation night.

"He doesn't wear hats," his wife said.

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