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Delayed Diploma

Veteran gets high school diploma

Veteran gets high school diploma

June 18, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

While Eugene Peoples' high school peers went to class, he went to war.

Peoples, 76, of Halfway, left school in 1942 to fight for his country during World War II. He was two weeks shy of 17 when he dropped out of Clearfield High School near Erie, Pa., and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, he said.

"I was just a kid. I thought I had to get in there and fight," Peoples said.

He waited 60 years to get his high school diploma.

Peoples and 17 other World War II veterans were honored May 31 during a special graduation ceremony at his alma mater. They received their diplomas before a crowded hall of soon-to-be graduates young enough to be their grandchildren.

"It was really something," Peoples said.

He and the other veterans belatedly received their diplomas courtesy of Operation Recognition, a national initiative that is gradually gaining momentum from Massachusetts to California.

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Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in June 2001 signed into law the bill that allows school districts to grant high school diplomas to honorably discharged veterans who would have graduated between 1941 and 1950 but instead left high school for military service.

West Virginia lawmakers enacted an Operation Recognition law in 2000. The Maryland General Assembly in 2000 passed legislation that requires local school boards to adopt regulations granting high school diplomas to students who dropped out of school to fight in World War II.

The Washington County Board of Education in Sept. 2001 approved a policy to award diplomas to World War II veterans who left school during their senior years to fight in the war. Nine veterans have thus far received their diplomas, School Board Public Information Officer Carol Mowen said.

Peoples, who served in Naval Air and Amphibian units until he was honorably discharged in 1946, never regretted leaving school to join the military, he said.

"No diploma - that didn't mean anything then," Peoples said. "Who you were was more important than your education."

Peoples was industrious.

He moved to Washington County in 1949 after meeting his future wife, Joyce Munson Peoples, during a pit stop in Hancock while en route to Florida. Peoples worked for Fairchild Industries on and off for about 14 years.

He owned a TV repair shop, did TV repair work for Montgomery Ward, and supervised the State Use Industries brush and carton factory at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown until his retirement in 1987.

Eugene and Joyce Peoples, who have been married for 52 years, in 1950 built their Halfway-area home from the ground up, they said.

"We drew the plans on notebook paper," Eugene Peoples said.

The couple raised five children.

Peoples' family encouraged him to travel to Pennsylvania for his diploma, he said. In one photo taken at his daughter's home after the ceremony, he proudly posed in cap and gown with the newly graduated Hedgesville (W.Va.) High School foreign exchange student who boarded with his daughter and her family this year.

Interested veterans or their family members may contact the school district from which they are seeking a diploma for further information.

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