Vietnam War veteran finally receives his diploma

October 06, 2007|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

Vietnam War veteran Ray Linebaugh received his high school diploma amid a standing ovation this week.

It was 46 years after his class, the Class of 1961, graduated from North Hagerstown High School.

"It was very moving for me to get that diploma," Linebaugh said. "More than anything, it's self-accomplishment."

Linebaugh, 65, of 11935 Heather Drive west of Hagerstown, was 17 and had just finished his sophomore year at North when he decided to enlist.

His much older brother, Bob, who had been raising Ray and another brother, John, in Hagerstown's West End since their parents died, had earned a Purple Heart while in the U.S. Army during World War II. John, who was about 10 years older than Ray, had served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.

"So I decided to keep the family tradition and do my part," Ray said.

With Bob's blessing, Ray signed up for the Air Force. After training as a firefighter, he served in Vietnam from May 1963 through the following May, attached to the 1st Air Commando Squadron.


While there, he received the Bronze Star for valor in combat after his crew was flown into enemy territory to the spot where an American fighter plane, loaded with weapons, had crashed under fire. The crew died, but Linebaugh's team had to secure the area, gather their remains and recover the weapons - all while the outer casings of bombs, torn off the aircraft's wings on impact, burned ever nearer the TNT at their centers.

Linebaugh retired from the military in 1980.

He has been active, eventually becoming president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County. He led the effort to have the Veterans Memorial Wall built at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Memorial Park in Halfway.

At first, he didn't think much about what he had missed by leaving North High early. After all, he earned a GED (general equivalency diploma) while in the Air Force "before my high school class ever graduated."

Then, about six years ago, Linebaugh and his daughter, Vickie Smith of Hagerstown, attended the 40th reunion for North High's Class of '61.

"I was one of the few there that hadn't had a diploma, and I felt out of place," Linebaugh said.

So, when last year's 45th reunion came, he didn't go.

He then read about an Army veteran in Baltimore who had quit high school, gone to Korea and now, finally, received his diploma.

So Linebaugh called Del. LeRoy Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany. Myers got the way cleared, using legislation enabling diplomas to be issued to veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Tuesday's ceremony before the Washington County Board of Education and some of Linebaugh's friends, both active and retired military, was unusual, board spokesman Will Kauffman said. He said the county hasn't issued any such diplomas in at least four years.

For Linebaugh, it meant a lot.

Not as much as his Bronze Star, he said, but still a lot.

And that means he probably will attend his class' 50th anniversary in four years.

"I hope so," he said, "if I ain't pushing up daisies."

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