COAL TOWNSHIP - Family of World War II veteran Joseph Shepos traveled from as far as California to witness him graduate Wednesday evening from Shamokin Area Middle/High School, but it was his 18-year-old great niece from Irish Valley who had the privilege of presenting his honorary diploma.

Helana Supsic, who on Friday will join her great uncle as a member of the Class of 2014, presented him a school district-issued certificate in front of a standing ovation at a Scholastic Awards Program in the high school auditorium. Wearing a black U.S. Navy hat, the 88-year-old gave a thumbs-up while the audience and school officials applauded.

"It's special to me," Supsic said of having the honor of presenting Shepos his diploma. "I am very proud of him."

Shepos, a native of Shamokin who now resides in Harrisburg, was 17 in 1943 when he quit Shamokin High School to join the U.S. Navy during World War II. He received his diploma from Shamokin Area thanks to state legislation and the Department of Education that honors veterans who left school early to enlist in the armed services.

"It's been a long time, but it's great!" Shepos said while admiring his diploma. "I was very proud to serve my country."

Born in 1925, Shepos is a son of Andrew and Stella Shepos. He lived on Kase Street at the top of Bunker Hill before his family moved to Paxinos. World War II was underway when Shepos went to the American Legion Building in downtown Shamokin to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He attended boot camp at the U.S. Naval Training Station in Sampson, N.Y.

He graduated from radio school in Bedford May 17, 1943. He later returned home for 15 days to marry his high school sweetheart, Anna, in St. Joseph Church. They'll celebrate their 70th anniversary June 17.

Shepos served aboard the USS Hampden County (LST-803), a 328-foot long LST-542-class tank landing ship, in the Asiatic-Pacific theater. The ship logged about 33,000 miles during Shepos' time on board, traveling from island to island. He was aboard during the occupation of Okinawa, Japan.

Shepos was honorably discharged in 1945 as a radioman second class. He earned the American Theatre Ribbon, Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign ribbon and one star.

He later worked for Reading Railroad and eventually took a job in construction with the state, from which he retired. He and his wife have five children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.