87-year-old to get his diploma

Many high school graduates might put their diplomas on a shelf as an everyday reminder of the accomplishment, but when Lowell native Bernard Engle returned from serving in the Navy just after high school, the whereabouts of his diploma were not the first thing on his mind.

It was 1946 when Engle returned from his time aboard ships crossing the Pacific at the end of World War II, and soon realized that he had never received his diploma that was held behind because he couldn’t attend his high school graduation.

Saturday, 87-year-old Engle, originally in the Lowell High School Class of 1945, will return to walk alongside the Class of 2014 at Fort Frye High School’s graduation.

“My daughter had found out the Lowell high school had closed and combined into Fort Frye High School, but they still had my transcripts,” Engle said. “She talked to them about it and they decided to give me a diploma and asked if I wanted to walk with the Class of 2014.”

Lowell High School, which was located near where Lowell Elementary is now, saw its last graduating class in 1957.

Engle, who currently lives in Vero Beach, Fla., with his wife Sonia, said the decision to come back was not a difficult one.

“I said ‘why certainly,’ because after all these years, I’ll finally get my diploma,” he said.

Engle was 17 when he enlisted in the Navy during World War II, but military officials requested that he finish high school first. Once he had obtained enough credits, Engle was shipped off to boot camp, eventually finding himself in California and then serving on the USS Hornet.

“We were never told where we were going, but we figured out we were headed to Japan,” Engle said. “I remember being so scared thinking about it.”

The Hornet got stuck in a typhoon, and went on to make journeys to Iwo Jima to pick up a few thousand soldiers.

The war ended in August 1945, and Engle left the service completely in 1946. At the time he had assumed, because he had technically finished, that one of his 11 siblings-he was the ninth-had received his diploma.

After he had expressed several times that he wished he had his diploma, Sharon Engle, one of Bernard’s daughters, did some research and found that the Veterans Affairs had addressed the issue of veterans never receiving high school diplomas.

Sharon contacted Fort Frye and explained her father’s situation, and once they confirmed he was eligible for a diploma, she jokingly asked if her father could attend graduation.

“That was in December,” Sharon said. “In March they called me back and asked, and I could not believe it.”

Because Sharon had not told her father about any of her research, she had the school write a letter asking him to attend the Class of 2014’s commencement ceremony.

“When he got the letter, it was priceless,” she said. “It will be an exciting weekend for the whole family.”

Family from all corners of the country will be attending Engle’s graduation Saturday.

“I want to wish good luck to the class, and I want to tell those who don’t want to go to college or can’t find a job, to join the military,” Engle said.

Shortly after leaving the service, Engle married his wife Sonia, and eventually had five children. He held jobs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and spent time running an agricultural packing house before retiring some 40 years later.

Fort Frye Local Schools Board of Education President Charlie Schilling, who is related to Engle through his wife, signed the diploma just like he does for all graduates.

“It’s not just good for Fort Frye, but it’s also a great remembrance of Lowell High School because it was a big part of our district,” Schilling said. “And as someone who has been through what he has been through, it will mean a lot to everyone to have him there, especially the seniors.”

Getting to walk alongside a new generations of graduates, Engle said, will bring his life full circle.

“It’s great, because I can get my diploma, and it will have made my life that much better, to tell people that I finally have it,” he said. “Now I’m just enjoying life, because that’s what it all about.