U.S. Navy vet receives high school diploma 'just a little bit late'

Charles L. DeBow's family surprised him with trip to BOE offices

August 17, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE
  • Charles L. DeBow is presented a high school diploma by Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan as school board members applaud. DeBow left high school in 1943 to enlist in the U.S. Navy.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Charles L. DeBow thought he was visiting Hagerstown to enjoy a late birthday dinner with his family Tuesday night.

He was still going to get dinner, but DeBow's son, Jim DeBow, first took his father to the Washington County Board of Education offices, where the elder DeBow was surprised when he was presented with his high school diploma by Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

"It's my honor to present you your high school diploma -- just a little bit late, but well deserved" Morgan said as she handed DeBow his diploma. DeBow left high school in 1943, his senior year, she said.

DeBow, who turned 84 Monday, quit Hagerstown High School his senior year in 1943 to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II, according to Jim DeBow and Morgan. Charles DeBow was just 17 at the time, and had to get parental permission to enlist, Jim DeBow said.

Asked after the presentation Tuesday if he was surprised, DeBow said he thought his family was at the wrong place.


"I didn't know anything about it," he said.

"I really appreciate it," DeBow said of receiving his diploma.

DeBow received a standing ovation from those attending the board meeting, including several family members.

Asked by school board member Paul W. Bailey to talk about his service, if he felt comfortable, DeBow recalled leaving home for the first time.

"I'd never been away from home. When I went to Baltimore to be examined, that was a big thing," said DeBow, who lives in Lovettsville, Va., near Brunswick, Md.

After going to boot camp in New York and getting further training in the Norfolk, Va., area, and in California, DeBow shipped out to the Pacific, his son said Monday.

"He was involved in the invasion of Guam in 1944," said Jim DeBow, of Herndon, Va. An armed guard with the Navy, the elder DeBow spent the rest of the war in Guam, taking care of prisoners of war and security issues, his son said.

DeBow's family brought a box to the meeting that contained DeBow's war medals and some other items.

"The Bible, my mom gave me when I left home, and I carried it the whole way through the service," he said.

After the war, DeBow returned to Hagerstown where he worked at the A&P, Jim DeBow said.

DeBow said he stayed in Hagerstown until 1961, when he was transferred to the A&P in Leesburg, Va. He worked for the grocery store chain for 31 years.

Then, he took six months off and couldn't handle it, DeBow said.

So he got a part-time job working security at Inova Loudoun Hospital, DeBow said. He's worked there 21 years.

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