FOUNTAIN SPRINGS - Diplomas were presented at North Schuylkill Junior-Senior High School Friday to local veterans who left their respective high schools to serve in the military.

The program included the diploma presentations to Harold F. Reichwein Sr., Ashland, who attended Butler Township High School, and Owen Thomas McGinley, Aristes, who attended Conyngham Township High School in Columbia County. Francis Joseph Kruskie, of Mount Carmel, who attended Frackville High School, was unable to attend Friday's ceremony. Those former high schools are now part of the North Schuylkill School District.

Reichwein and McGinley are World War II veterans, and Kruskie is a veteran of the Korean War.

Eleventh and 12th graders sat in the auditorium to learn about Veterans Day and watch Reichwein and McGinley received their diplomas from school board President Charles Hepler and board member Robin Hetherington. Kruskie will receive his diploma by mail.

During its Oct. 23 meeting, the North Schuylkill School Board approved granting high school diplomas to the three men.

A debt of gratitude

Reichwein and McGinley sat on the stage with relatives and members of Ashland American Legion Post 434 and VFW Post 7654, along with school district administration. High school Principal Christian Temchatin welcomed the veterans and the seventh- and eighth-grade students, followed by music by the high school band under the direction of Matthew Tenaglia and the chorus led by Brandi Kline.

"We can never fully repay our debt of gratitude to the more than 650,000 and counting American service members who died in battle or the 1.4 million who were wounded. We can recognize and thank the 25 million veterans still living today," Temchatin said.

District Superintendent Dr. Andrew D. Smarkanic spoke briefly before the presentation of the diplomas.

"This is your graduation day. We certainly are honored to have you here to celebrate that special day that you couldn't celebrate with your family and friends years ago," he said..

Diplomas

Hepler and Hetherington gave the diplomas to Reichwein and McGinley, after which the auditorium erupted in applause with a standing ovation.

The diplomas were designed to include the name of the school, respective county, student's name, the names of school officials (board president, vice president and secretary, principal and vice principal) at the time when graduation would have taken place if they had finished high school, and the month (June) and the year they would have graduated: McGinley in 1944, Reichwein in 1946, and Kruskie in 1953.

After the presentations, Temchatin addressed the students.

"We have you here today not only to honor the esteemed veterans present, but also to remind you of the opportunities that you have in front of you. It can be easy at your age to take high school graduation and all that follows it for granted. The three gentlemen being recognized as graduates today were not given that opportunity because they were called to fight for the rights of us and others," he said.

After the program ended with the playing of "Taps," there were many photo opportunities for Reichwein and McGinley with their families and friends, similar in many ways to any graduation day for students advancing beyond their senior year.

Family pride

Sheila (Reichwein) Pitcavage proudly sat next to her 85-year-old father with a smile on the honor given to him.

"He served in the Merchant Marines and the Coast Guard," said Pitcavage. "He was so happy for this honor to get this diploma. Who would ever expect it? He's a lucky guy. Not only is his family here today, all of his hospice family members are here, too."

Speaking through his daughter, Reichwein thanked everyone and that it was a great way to receive the diploma.

McGinley, 89, served in the Army with the 168th Infantry, Fourth Division, in Italy.

"I was in the Battle of Monte Cassino, Anzio and all the way up through Italy. I was wounded twice," said McGinley. "I made it to my junior year. I went because most of the fellas I know were going into the Army and I volunteered to go with them. I was with a lot of fellas from Centralia that I knew. Most of us ended up in Italy."

'Maybe go to law school'

McGinley's granddaughter Kaitlin Kertsman, of Philadelphia, asked him, "Now that you graduated, what are you going to do next?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'll go to law school," said McGinley with a hearty laugh.

"I think this is awesome," said Kertsman. "We were lucky to hear a lot of his stories growing, and to see this (graduation) come to fruition is such an awesome experience, especially for the kids here. We know he's an accomplished young man."

McGinley's daughter, Mary Beth Keirn, Baltimore, said, "I think it's amazing that they did this for the veterans. They deserve it and it's a wonderful thing. It's great for the kids here, as well, because they have no comprehension of what these men went through at such a very young age."

The research on the diplomas was done by Merri Lynn Craig, who is the school board secretary and works in the administration office. Craig said veterans who did not finish school to go into military service can apply for a diploma through "Operation Recognition," which is a veterans benefit through the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Operation Recognition authorizes 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 War or Vietnam War.