WWII vet who left school to fight finally gets diploma

LONGMONT (KUSA) - An auditorium is filled with students on their feet, high school freshmen enthusiastically clapping, some with tears in their eyes.

Across the building, on the stage, is a graduate accepting his high school diploma in a wheelchair.

"Speechless. I don't know what to say," the graduate said, "It's amazing."

This is a moment in time that should have happened 70 years ago.

When Henry 'Hank' Werner was supposed to be graduating high school in 1944, the 17-year-old was instead completing basic training for the United States Army, and preparing to ship off to fight in World War II.

"I was the oldest at 17, I was the oldest man in Highland," Werner said. "All my friends who were 17 or older were gone. They had all enlisted or been drafted. And I was there alone."

His father wanted Werner to stay through June for his graduation, after which he had an appointment at the prestigious West Point Academy.

Werner couldn't wait. He had already been working as a blackout officer in town since he was 14, riding his bike through neighborhoods during air raids, making sure all the homes had turned out their lights.

Along with neighborhood pals, he searched scrap yards for metal to aid in the fight.

Two months before donning his cap and gown, Werner chose instead to don the uniform of an enlisted soldier, at age 17, with permission from his father.

"I didn't think I could handle West Point, to be honest with you," Werner smiled.

Within seven years of joining the Army, Werner had risen to the top-most enlisted rank in the service, Sergeant Major.

"I don't regret that I enlisted in the Army," Werner said.

His deployment took him to Germany, where he was stationed at the Quartermaster Supply Depot in Geissen, facilitating the Berlin Airlift, where at times, supply trucks were being loaded and departing ever six minutes.

Over 200 tons of supplies came out of the Geissen Quartermaster Supply Depot for the Berlin Airlift.

After the war, Werner returned stateside where he worked at IBM for 30 years.

Although he was now a decorated soldier, there was one decoration he had never received.

"When I was in the service, I didn't receive a diploma," he said. "I took a GED class and received a certificate to that effect, that's the only diploma I had received."

That was seven decades ago.

Time faded away, though for a short but beautiful moment when Werner was brought onstage.

At the Silver Creek High School auditorium during freshman orientation Monday, his daughter, a teacher at the school, and his granddaughter, stood up with him as he was given the one award which had eluded him for most of his life.

The diploma ceremony was a surprise.

"Speechless. I didn't know what to say or how to accept it. It was wonderful," Werner said.

And the freshmen in the crowd stood and cheered, as Werner waved, his hands shaking just a bit as they clutched his Highland High School diploma.


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