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4 months ago · by · Comments Off on WWII POW Presented With High School Diploma

WWII POW Presented With High School Diploma

A WWII POW was presented with a high school diploma, fulfilling a wish 80 years in the making. Kevin Litterer, principal of East Sac High School in Lake View, Iowa said it all started when he received a phone call on November 18, 2021. He recalls his assistant answering it and jumping up. “Kevin, you need to speak to this person right now,” she told him.

Tess Gooding, a medical social worker at the San Angelo Veterans Affairs Clinicin in Texas was on the line. Gooding explained that during her initial assessment, a new patient of hers, Donald J. Huisenga. The 98-year-old WWII veteran had said that he hadn’t graduated high school. He was supposed to receive a diploma from Auburn High School (now East Sac High School) in 1943. Three months before he was set to walk across the stage, however, he was drafted into the Army.

Huisenga was injured in artillery fire during the Normandy Invasion and two weeks later, he found himself in a German prisoner of war camp where he was held for six months. Huisenga left the Army in 1945, got married, had children and eventually moved to Texas. He had told Gooding that he was always haunted by the high school diploma he never got. Gooding said “He was telling me about his time as a prisoner of war, at which point he mentioned that he had never graduated high school. I thought, ‘You know, I’ll just reach out to the high school back in Iowa.’ I’m originally from the area. Worst case scenario, they’ll say no.”

Litterer immediately reached out to the company that provides East Sac High School with yearbooks, diplomas, class rings, and other memorabilia. With help from school officials, he was able to locate old copies of Auburn High School graduation materials to help them replicate a Class of 1943 diploma. In two hours, he had everything he needed and four days later, trustees with the East Sac County School Board of Education voted unanimously to name Huisenga a graduate of Auburn High School.

Litterer and his wife drove from Iowa to San Angelo so he could award Huisenga the diploma himself during a special ceremony at the San Angelo Veterans Affairs Clinic on January 5. After the ceremony, Huisenga said “I made it. I always hoped that I would get a diploma. I am pleased as punch. I’m so pleased, I couldn’t be any more pleased.” Huisenga invited Litterer to his home to show him where he planned to display the diploma: in a bookcase right next to the television.

Huisenga even invited Litterer and his wife to celebrate his 100th birthday on September 20, 2023. Litterer says of his new friend “He is just so amazing to me. His outlook on life is incredible. And for me, as a high school principal, next time a kid says they’re thinking about dropping out of high school I will show them a picture of Donald so they can see how much it means.”


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