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World War II Vet to be awarded honorary diploma

Vet will get diploma at graduation

Seaman 2nd Class Erwin Duane Empie, left Cedar Springs High School in 1944 to enlist in the Navy during World War II.

Seaman 2nd Class Erwin Duane Empie, left Cedar Springs High School in 1944 to enlist in the Navy during World War II.

By Judy Reed

Erwin Duane Empie, 90, has waited a long time to get his high school diploma. But the wait will be over on Thursday, June 2, when he finally receives an honorary diploma from Cedar Springs High School—the school he left in the 1940s so he could serve our country during World War II.

According to Erwin’s son, Mike, his father was originally born in Rossford, Ohio to Glenn Empie and Bessie (Smith) Empie. The family later moved to Cedar Springs. He had a brother Paul, and a sister, Marie.

Erwin enlisted in the Navy in 1944 at the age of 18, while attending Cedar Springs High School. He trained at the Naval Training Center near Chicago, Illinois, and served aboard the USS Lexington CV-16. He was a gunner’s mate, and his rank was Seaman 2nd class, V6. Mike said the ship patrolled mainly in the South China Sea to strike against enemy shipping and air installations.

Erwin served until 1946. In 1955, he married Dorothy Patrick.

Erwin is eligible for the diploma under Public Act 180 of 2001. It says that a high school diploma can be awarded to a veteran if, before graduation from a high school, the military veteran enlisted in or was drafted into the armed forces of the United States during World War II, the Korean Conflict, or the VietNam war.

Mike heard about “Operation Recognition,” (Public Act 181 of 2001) in a newspaper article, and checked with Cedar Springs High School about his father getting an honorary diploma.

According to registrar Susan Andrzejewski, Erwin attended Cedar Springs High School for his freshman year and part of his sophomore year. She said she found an old box in the basement labeled non-graduates of the 1930s. Although he attended in the 1940s, she dug through it and found his transcript. “He was a bit older than our sophomore students today,” she explained, “but back then they sometimes kept students home to help farm.”

So it won’t be just 17 and 18-year-old students in high spirits when they get their diplomas at graduation next week. Erwin Empie and family will be celebrating, too.

“He’s very excited,” said Mike.

Congratulations, Erwin, and thank you for serving our country!

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