Iowa WWII veteran awarded high school diploma 77 years after dropping out to go to war

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SAN ANGELO, Texas (KCAU) — Donald Huisinga went from being a high school student from Auburn, Iowa to jumping out of a plane during the U.S’s attack on Normandy in 1943 during World War II.

After surviving the battles at Normandy, including a six-month stint as a prisoner of war, Huisinga moved back to the States, started a family, but lived with one major regret: not finishing his diploma at Auburn High School.

That’s when the current principal at what is now known as East Sac County High, Kevin Litterer, got involved.

“It started on November 18th, I got a phone call from Tess Gooding and she is a social worker down at the VA hospital in San Angelo, Texas,” said Litterer.

Litterer said that after hearing Huisinga’s wish from Gooding, he worked with Jostens to create a replica 1945 diploma, and on Tuesday, he and his wife drove the 950 miles to San Angelo to hand-deliver the special gift.

Litterer said this story has taken a life of its own but he is proud to be a part of it.

“It’s about Iowa nice, about people rallying together to show support and appreciation for a veteran of 98 years old who completed his service in World War II and earned his diploma, yes in the hallways of Auburn, but also in the battlefields of Europe,” said Litterer.

Surrounded by family and friends, Huisinga was overwhelmed with emotion after receiving his diploma and a special Quilt of Valor.

“I always hoped that I would get a diploma and I am pleased to punch. I couldn’t be any more pleased I wanted to,” said the 98-year-old Huisinga.

Huisinga reflected on his old high school friends and said that nine of his class of 24 were also drafted into service. One of Sac County’s Quilt of Valor creators reflected on what it meant to honor an American hero.

“For us to be able to work with Mr. Litterer and get him a Quilt of Valor to say ‘You’re ours and we’re proud of you and we thank you and we’re so appreciative of the freedoms that you made possible,” said Sac County Quilt of Valor’s Sue Peyton.

Principal Litterer and his wife Beth, after gifting Huisinga his diploma Wednesday afternoon, hope to make the thirteen-hour drive home to Lake View, Iowa in time for school on Thursday morning.

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