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Published: Monday, 5/17/2004

Recognition overdue: Korean War, WW II vets receive diplomas

BY ELIZABETH A. SHACK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robert Charvat, right, leads veterans receiving high school diplomas at a ceremony at University of Toledo's Nitschke Hall. Robert Charvat, right, leads veterans receiving high school diplomas at a ceremony at University of Toledo's Nitschke Hall.
WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge

When Jack Wilmarth enlisted in the army in 1949, he was just 15.

"My dad lied and said I was 17 and let me join the service," he said.

Near the end of his basic training, the army found out he was too young and told him to come back when he was older. Having been in the military, he didn't want to go back to school, so he got a job until he was old enough to join the army again at 17.

He always wished he'd gotten that diploma.

"My wife, all my kids graduated," he said.

Yesterday afternoon he received a Northview High School diploma at a 16-district ceremony for Korean War and World War II veterans. Two previous graduation ceremonies had been held for World War II veterans, but this was the first that included Korean War veterans.

"It's like a dream that came true," Mr. Wilmarth said.

Wives, children, and grandchildren filled the Nitschke Hall auditorium at the University of Toledo to wave flags as the veterans walked by in caps and gowns. The audience cheered for each name that was called.

Some accepted diplomas on behalf of deceased fathers and grandfathers.

The event was made possible by a December law that grants diplomas to Korean War veterans who left school before graduating in order to serve in the armed forces and who were honorably discharged. It grew out of a 2001 state law that applied only to World War II veterans.

"I don't think any of us realized how important it would be," said Mayor Jack Ford, a member of the General Assembly at that time.

The new law extends the

recognition to veterans of a war often referred to as the forgotten war.

"I'm so proud that they thought about us," Mr. Wilmarth said.

World War II veteran Charles Shrader was a sophomore in high school when his father was called up, and volunteered to go in his father's place.

At first he wasn't going to accept his diploma.

"The closest buddy I had, I lost over there, and I wasn't going to take it if he couldn't have it," he said.

But Mr. Shrader, who is 81 and uses an oxygen tank to help him breathe, changed his mind. Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders gave him a diploma from Waite High School, walking across the stage so Mr. Shrader wouldn't have to.

Mr. Sanders, one of seven public officials who spoke at the ceremony, forgave the new graduates their library fines and unserved detentions, and said the district is proud of them.

"We want to thank you for representing us over there so we could be free over here," he said.

The ceremony was sponsored by the Lucas County Educational Service Center, the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission, and the Toledo Public Schools.

Robert Labadie, director of the Governor's Office of Veterans Affairs, said the graduation was intended to honor the veterans who had put their lives on hold to serve the country.

"Many Americans weren't able to simply pick up where they had left off," he said. "There often wasn't an opportunity to return to the classroom."

Korean War veteran Robert Charvat said when he got out of the service, he was told he'd have to take night classes to get his diploma. Since he worked nights, he couldn't go back to school.

It's something he always missed.

"I saw my daughter and my son get diplomas," he said. "It's about time I got a chance to do that."

After yesterday's ceremony, his family planned to hold an open house for him.

"I'm happy. I'm satisfied," he said.

Contact Elizabeth A. Shack at: eshack@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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