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Diploma delivered after 70 years

By Staff | Apr 8, 2014

Charles Simmons of Torrance, California holds his long awaited high school diploma which arrived 70 years after graduation. In the history of the East Lycoming School District, Simmons is the first to receive a belated diploma.

HUGHESVILLE Surviving members of the Hughesville High School class of 1944 are about to mark their 70th alumni year. Students during those turbulent times of World War 11, have yearbook records that when preparing for the junior prom, state that “conditions caused by the war hindered in our decorating.”

This hindrance proved trivial after several classmates decided to enlist in the military and leave before graduation. The exodus began during their junior year when Chester Sones, Charles Simmons and George Odell joined the Navy. Later more young men left the class during the summer prior to their senior year. They included Pat Haynes, who joined the Marines, and Corson Smith who chose the Army.

Simmons, the son of Hughesville residents Charles “Todd” and Ethel (Stackhouse) Simmons, is the lone survivor of this group.

In the Navy for three years and 10 months, he was assigned to the USS Barnwell. While stationed in California, he visited a park in Long Beach where he met Dorothy, his future wife. They had exchanged addresses and intended to keep in touch but the address was misplaced.

A wartime event in which Simmons participated was manning a gun boat during the invasion of Normandy. By happenstance, Simmons saw hometown friend Dick Andrews as they passed each other on landing crafts. “We promised to holler at each other on the way back, but I didn’t see him,” Simmons said.

Hughesville High School officials (l-r): District Superintendent Michael Pawlik and board president Richard Michael present a diploma to Judy and Robert Simmons who received it on behalf of Charles Simmons of Torrance, California.

At the conclusion of his service, Simmons landed in California. However for official discharge, orders dictated he go to Norfolk, Virginia. Before he left, he located Dorothy and the two were married. The bride had another wait, this time for one month while her sailor wrapped up his tour of duty.

The couple moved to Hughesville for about a year, but returned to reside permanently in California. Simmons retired as a foreman from the Reynolds Aluminum Company. The couple lived in Torrance where the 89-year-old does gardening and driving to do errands.

“We’d been back to Hughesville a few times especially while my parents were still living. We’d visit my old friend George O’dell. From time to time, we also kept in touch with the Odell’s by mail,” Simmons said.

Many years have passed and local relatives, Judy and Bob Simmons thought his uncle deserved a diploma. Judy, a retired secretary with the Hughesville High School guidance office, was aware of state legislation to grant such awards.

The wishes of the naval man’s hometown family were granted when recently a presentation was made at the school. The diploma, received by Bob Simmons on behalf of his uncle, was presented by school board president Richard Michael. Also attending were Michael Pawlik, district superintendent of schools and Judy Simmons who’d championed the cause. Exactly 70 years in the making, the diploma was forwarded to California and is now a reminder of his early life in a far-away-place.

In the history of the East Lycoming School District, Simmons is the first to receive a belated diploma.

The legislation called “Operation Recognition” was passed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania via Act 73 in 2001. It authorizes school districts to grant a high school diploma to any honorably discharged veteran who served in the U. S. military during WWII. Later legislation include veterans from the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War. They may also be awarded posthumously if stated requirements are meant.