WASHINGTON – Geraldine Cripe has two reasons to fly from Pensacola, Fla., to Hagerstown this weekend — to celebrate her father’s 75th birthday and attend his high school graduation.
Cripe’s father, Kenneth W. Smith, is one of eight Washington County World War II veterans who is scheduled to walk across stage of Western Heights Middle School to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” and receive his high school diploma Saturday.
The eight men are receiving their long-delayed diplomas under a law, passed last year, that requires counties to grant high school diplomas to veterans who dropped out of high school to join the U.S. armed forces during World War II.
The law does not require a ceremony — county officials decided it would be nice to organize one around Veterans Day. A similar ceremony is scheduled Wednesday for 10 Carroll County vets, who will get their diplomas at Century High School in Eldersburg.
The Washington County ceremony was organized after Cripe, a research biologist at the Environmental Protection Agency in Pensacola, heard about a similar law in another state. She wondered if Maryland had such a law.
In June, she called Washington County Superintendent Betty Morgan, who conferred with the county’s curriculum department and decided to hold a ceremony Veterans Day weekend.
The celebration will feature a serenade of patriotic songs from about 60 students from Paramount Elementary, who will wear homemade American flag T- shirts, said their music teacher, Linda Barnhart. Morgan will speak about what life was like in Hagerstown in the 1940s, and what the veterans left behind.
“Given the fact that our country is at war, its going to be a very serious event,” said Morgan. “I get tears in my eyes just thinking about it.”
One of the sponsors of the bill, Delegate Mary Conroy, D-Prince George’s, said the issue is personal for her: Her own brother dropped out to fight in World War II before he could get his diploma. She said there is no way of knowing how many Maryland vets might be affected by the measure.
But many may be like Smith. He was drafted in March 1945, just six weeks shy of graduating from Hagerstown High School, said his wife, Elinor.
“This is just so special to us,” she said.
Cripe echoed her mother’s statement.
“I really am very proud of my father and other veterans who have worked many long years and made lives for themselves without the diploma,” she said. “I think it is something that is long overdue.”
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