World War II vet awarded high school diploma

Left school in March of 1944 to enlist in the Marine Corps

By Danielle Arndt
AnnArbor.com

SALINE, Mich. (AP) — Theodore Westphal is now a high school graduate at the age of 86.

The longtime Saline resident recently received his high school diploma from Saline Area Schools at a Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Scot Graden and school board President Lisa Slawson honored the World War II veteran with his high school diploma in a special recognition ceremony following the Pledge of Allegiance.

Westphal left school in March of 1944 to join the war effort. He said he and his friend, who also was a Saline student, traveled to Detroit to voluntarily enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

His friend, however, couldn’t pass the admittance test because of a hearing problem, Westphal told AnnArbor.com. He said he was disappointed but, committed to serving their country, the two Saline boys tried again, this time signing up for the U.S. Navy.

Westphal was stationed aboard the USS South Dakota in the Pacific Ocean. The battleship was the lead ship of her class, the former seaman said.

The South Dakota is credited with participating in 13 military campaigns during the six-year war. Westphal said he was a part of the last nine of those 13 battles.

He added at the end of the war, Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur actually was supposed to sign the peace treaty, marking Japan’s surrender to the Allies, aboard the USS South Dakota. But because U.S. President Harry S. Truman was from Missouri, the treaty was moved to be signed aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

When asked why he felt compelled to leave school to serve his country, Westphal was overcome with emotion and his tears prevented him from speaking. His wife, Shirley, said: “Those were some of the proudest moments of his life.”

Receiving his high school diploma, although 68 years late, meant “the world” to both Shirley and Theodore. Shirley, 84, was a teacher at Saline schools for 31 years. She said the couple recently celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary.

“We are so proud and honored to have you here tonight ... to award you with your diploma ... and to thank you for your service to our country,” Slawson said.

Graden said Westphal is officially a Saline Hornets alumnus now.

“We’ve considered him that for years already,” said Shirley, leaning over to tease Graden.

Westphal’s diploma will be dated June 5, 1944, the first Sunday of the month to follow when traditional graduation ceremonies are held today.

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