World War II veterans get diplomas
By Vincent Z. Whaley
City Press Staff Writer
(PUBLISHED Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2000)
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. When the United States
was threatened by foreign attack in the early
1940s, many men willingly left the classroom
for the battlefield, never again stepping a
foot back into school and never regretting their
Although many World War II veterans may have
learned more from the armed forces than public
schools, Tennessee joined other states in 2000
by enacting a law to give regular high school
diplomas to those who were drafted or dropped
out of school to serve their country from 1941-45.
On Monday, the Johnson City Board of Education
presented three local veterans with their high
school diplomas after more than 55 years since
the Second World War's end. Another veteran's
diploma was awarded posthumously.
"Everywhere you go they ask if you are
a high school graduate, and now I'm too old
to use my diploma," laughed Thomas B. Hager
Sr., who served with the 98th "Iroquois"
Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater of
Operations from 1942-46.
"But this is a real shocker, and I'm honored
to receive my diploma after all these years.
I am proud of everybody who served, and I hope
we never have another war, but it seems like
every generation has one."
While state law does not allow diplomas to be
awarded posthumously, Dr. Robbie Anderson, the
city school system's curriculum director, said
an exception was made for Monday night's ceremony
at the Columbus Powell Service Center.
Raymond Davis O'Dell, 78, was scheduled to receive
his diploma, but died Nov. 26 at his Johnson
City residence. O'Dell served in the 3529th
Ordnance Maintenance Automation Division in
Normandy and Northern France and received the
European-African-Middle Eastern Theater of Operations
Medal with two Bronze Battle Stars.
In his honor, O'Dell's wife , Juanita, son,
Ray, and daughter, Joy Yates, accepted the diploma
"He did a lot during the war, including
help establish the Red Ball Express," Mrs.
O'Dell said. "He even went in on Omaha
Beach in Normandy on D-Day-plus-two and helped
put undercoats on the vehicles so they could
float in the water. He knew he'd probably never
use it, but he was so excited that he was finally
going to receive his diploma."
Other diploma recipients included David Sorrell,
who served with the 2nd "Hell on Wheels"
Armored Division, and Clarence David Slemons,
who served with the Navy in the South Pacific.
Sorrell, 76, served with the 2nd Armored Division
from the shores of Safi, French Morocco, and
Sicily to Normandy and Berlin.
"We landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day-plus-three,
but most of the heavy equipment had been removed,"
he said. "They were still cutting the bank
out, and I was a motorcycle driver for directing
military convoys and supply depots and taking
them to the front line.
"I've waited 55 years for this, and I have
thought about it for a great deal. I wondered
what it would have been like if I had stayed
in high school in Johnson City. But if I had
finished high school in time, it would have
been just in time for the Korean War draft."
As for Slemons, he retired from the Navy in
1966, having attained the rank of senior chief
"I quit school my sophomore year in 1943
and immediately went into the Navy," he
said. "Of my graduating class, all of the
boys went into the service, and there were only
four or five boys left. The only reason they
were left behind is because they couldn't pass
the physical. Everybody left school and went
into the service. It was the thing to do."
Veterans wishing to obtain their diploma are
required to submit dishcharge papers showing
they served in World War II between Dec. 7,
1941, and Aug. 14, 1945. Veterans should have
been of school age when they served in the war.
While diplomas are available for any veteran
who fits into those categories, veterans are
required to apply for their diploma in the school
district in which they currently live, regardless
of where they attended school.
For more information, contact Jerry Hill of
the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs
at 615-741-4797 or your district's school system.
© 2000-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605,
All rights reserved. This material may not
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