When America’s young soldiers left home to serve their country in World War II, some of them left behind their chances for a high school diploma.
Some arrived home as heroes, but jobs, sweethearts, or other priorities sometimes got in the way of their return to school.
Some, of course, never came home at all.
To recognize such sacrifices, Iowa state lawmakers borrowed an idea from neighboring Nebraska and passed a measure this spring to award honorary high school diplomas to anyone who failed to graduate because of military service during the war.
Iowa’s veterans and their families have since inquired about the program by the hundreds, and as many as 2,000 might be able to apply for the diplomas.
A few Iowa high schools have awarded diplomas on their own to veterans, state officials said.
But some veterans’ alma maters no longer exist. And the legislature wanted to make it easier for surviving or deceased veterans to be honored.
Evelyn Anderson, whose office at the state education department is handling the program, said fielding the calls from applicants has been anything but dull.
“Sometimes, bureaucracies aren’t a whole lot of fun, but these stories have been wonderful,” she said. “Guys have said when they call, ‘Let me tell you how I met my wife,’ or ‘Let me tell you why I left school.’”
Veterans-affairs employees check records for names of applicants who served between Sept. 18, 1940, and Dec. 31, 1946. The records sometimes fail to show exactly when a person served, but all requests are considered valid unless proved otherwise.
“We want to err on the side of the veteran,” said Brian Bales, the executive director of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, the agency that helps sort the applications.
The state is considering holding special ceremonies to recognize the honorary graduates on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Iowans may call their local or state office of veterans affairs to request free applications.
A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2000 edition of Education Week