Art Ihrig was supposed to graduate with the Dormont High School Class of 1942.
He almost certainly learned more during the past seven decades than in a few years at Dormont High; however, of his many accomplishments, a high school diploma slipped away, almost without a thought.
During its meeting that night, the Keystone Oaks School Board awarded Arthur L. Ihrig, an 89-year-old World War II veteran who now lives in Whitehall Borough, the diploma that he didn't get to accept with his classmates.
"We never talked about it," Ihrig said of his missed diploma. "All this—I'm amazed. I'm dazed. I didn't know it would be like this. This is great."
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs' Operation Recognition program allows school districts to grant diplomas to World War II veterans who were honorably discharged. Ihrig received a diploma that reads "Dormont High School" since that is his true alma mater.
Dormont Elementary School now sits on the site of the former Dormont High building on Annapolis Avenue.
Bruce Ihrig and Marsha Grabowski, two of Art's seven children, were in the audience on Thursday to watch their father graduate from high school, something that most children don't get to see their parents do. Another daughter, Pam Fonseca, lives in Ohio and couldn't attend the ceremony, but it was she who first contacted district officials and helped to organize the ceremony.
"When we found out we'd be able to watch him be presented by the board, I got choked up," Grabowski said. "We're just very honored and very proud of him."
Art grew up in Dormont, but closer to his home in Whitehall, his family is planning a 90th birthday party at the Brentwood VFW Post 1810 on Route 51 in September.
Grabowski said that the family is anxious to see the diploma that was 70 years in the making.
Art was a 17-year-old senior at Dormont High when his father died. To help their family, he left school in 1941 to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
"We needed the money," he said. "We wouldn't eat if we didn't work, so I had to work."
He'd worked for about a year when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He left his mother and six siblings and sailed overseas, where he served from November of 1942 to December of 1945.
Art's first assignment was at a field hospital in southern England, where he said that he and the hospital's staff cared for the first casualties of D-Day. Art also served in France, Czechoslovakia and Germany, working as an intelligence agent, and then, as a military police officer.
His image appears in one of the photographs at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.
Following the war, Art married twice. He has seven children—Art, Linda, Cindy, Pam, Marsha, Matthew and Bruce—and seven grandchildren. All of his grandchildren have graduated from high school, and one is currently serving in the military.
When asked if college would be his next step, Art said, "At 90? Come on!," and laughed. He said that he is thrilled to have his high school diploma and hopes that other veterans take advantage of a similar opportunity.
"I hope they do," he said. "I hope they come to me and ask me about it. This is just wonderful. This is just more than I ever expected."
This article originally appeared on the Dormont-Brookline Patch.
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