The Whitehall-Coplay school board awarded high school diplomas Monday to five local veterans who were unable to complete their secondary education due to their service in the military.
“Tonight we have the opportunity to honor our veterans for the sacrifices they’ve made in serving our country,” said Superintendent J.W. Corby. “By leaving school early, they were not able to attain their high school diplomas…but through Operation Veterans Recognition, they will be able to tonight.”
Operation Recognition allows Pennsylvania school districts to grant a high school diploma to “any honorably discharged veteran who served in the United States military during World War II, Korean Conflict or Vietnam War,” according to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
These military conflicts mark periods during which the draft was widely implemented in the United States.
The five men awarded diplomas for their service on this Veterans Day were Bernhard Daughterty, William Focht, Raymond Gangaway, Harvey Seyfried, and Joseph Sommer.
Superintendent J.W. Corby and School Board President Eileen Abruzzi presented each of the men with their diplomas, which according to Corby “are the exact same diplomas that the class of 2013 received.”
This is the first time in recent memory the School Board has awarded diplomas to local veterans.
Some of the men had attended the Whitehall-Coplay school district at one point, while others are currently local residents. During each presentation the veterans and their families were given the chance to say a few words.
“All five of my children graduated here,” said William Focht of his strong connection to the region.
Veteran Harvey Seyfried spoke fondly of his time in the service. Seyfried served during the 1960s before receiving his honorable discharge in 1968, being awarded a Bronze Star in the process.
“Besides the time spent with my family, my grandchildren, my friends, these were the best four years of my life,” said Joseph Sommer. He served in the Navy from 1951 to 1959, during which his ship had the opportunity to transport President Eisenhower from Guam to Pearl Harbor.
The veterans also made a point to thank the Whitehall-Coplay School District for making the effort to finally award them their certification.
“I appreciate this very much,” said Raymond Gangaway who served during the Vietnam War. “This is something I never expected in my life. Thank you very much.”
Bernhard Daughterty, one of the men being honored at the meeting, passed away 15 months prior to the meeting and so his family accepted the diploma posthumously on his behalf.
“He always thought education was so important,” said Daughterty’s daughter. “He put all of his children through college. He would be thrilled [to receive this].”
To locate the veterans, district officials utilized their own website in conjunction with the Veterans of Foreign Wars nonprofit organization to locate local residents and former students interested in applying for their diplomas.
“They did a lot of the legwork for us,” said Corby of the nonprofits and legions that assisted in the process.
The outcome was well worth it though.
“I think I can honestly in my nine years that this is a highlight I will never forget,” said Corby. “This was just our small way of recognizing them.”
The next Whitehall-Coplay School Board meeting will be on December 9th.