Donald Huisenga of Auburn Iowa was supposed to graduate high school in May 1943 but in March he turned 18 and was drafted into the Army just 6 weeks short of graduation. He became a parachutist and was eventually captured becoming a prisoner of war, spending the last eight months of the war in a German POW camp.
At a meeting in November with Tess Gooding, a social worker at the West Texas VA, Donald mentioned that he never got his diploma, something he’d always regretted.
That same day, she reached out to the East Sac County High School in Lake View, Iowa, which replaced the school Donald had attended, Auburn High School. She explained the situation to Principal Kevin Litterer and he agreed to help Donald get his diploma. The school board and superintendent unanimously voted to approve recognizing Donald as a high school grad in the state of Iowa. Then the school officials had to track down a diploma from Auburn High from 1943 to create a replica for Donald’s diploma.
It may have taken an extra 79 years, but the 98-year-old veteran received his long-awaited diploma earlier this month. Principal Litterer even drove from Iowa to Texas to present it to Donald. “For me to present the diploma to him, it was an honor," Litterer says. "Yes, it’s his diploma, but also, I’m handing it to a gentleman who put his life on hold to sacrifice for what our country needed in 1943. And those guys, were all legitimate heroes in my opinion."