- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

MILFORD, Utah (AP) - Of the 45 students who were granted Milford High School diplomas this month, only two were there to walk across the stage. The other certificates went to family members of the students — young men who dropped out in the 1940s to fight in World War II.

Over Labor Day weekend, hundreds of people packed the high school auditorium to see the families accept diplomas on behalf of their relatives and give a standing ovation to the two surviving veterans, reported KSL-TV (https://bit.ly/1KYzuPY ).

“It is an important acknowledgment to the family of the sacrifices their father, or their loved one gave to this country for our freedom,” said Milford native Cheryl Elmer.

Elmer had been helping her mother organize her obituary collection by classmates when she realized how many local soldiers had never graduated.

“She was saying over and over to me, ‘You will not be able to find his graduation date because he went to war,’” recalled Elmer. “I began researching this a little bit and found the impact of war mobilization on Milford High School was immense.”

She went over Milford High School’s records and found the names of students who withdrew during that period, cross-checking them against a list of local soldiers. Her effort left her with 45 names.

Five of them were killed during the war, and another 36 had died in subsequent years. Only four were still alive.

Elmer was determined to locate the families of all of them.

“The roots run deep here,” said Elmer. “So I was able to mostly contact relatives and go from there.”

She was able to get in touch with Clarence “Bud” Williams of Nevada and Leon Williams of Washington. The brothers both dropped out of high school to join the war, and they were able to graduate together on Labor Day.

“We decided it might get over with before we got in there,” said Bud, the older brother, recalling his decision to enlist. “That’s all we did. We went to Farragut, Idaho. I spent my boot camp there and after that they shipped me down to California and they shipped me to Kodiak, Alaska.”

He said he was the only one who knew how to make breakfast biscuits, landing him a job as a baker in the Navy until he was sent to a Seattle hospital with a leg injury months later. Eventually he received a medical discharge.

After a year, Leon Williams followed his brother’s lead and joined the Navy.

“I went in three months before I turned 17,” remembered Leon. “My mother signed for me, so I went to boot camp. You had to be 17 when you got out of boot camp.”

It wasn’t long before the younger Williams was teaching other recruits how to shoot at Idaho’s Farragut Naval Training Station.

“I was from small-town, Milford, deer-hunting family and hunters, so I had quite a bit of experience shooting a gun,” he said. “So, I went to the rifle range, and I shot 143 out of a 150 and carried that all the way through the Navy.”

Later, he became a gunnery officer in the Pacific fleet. He returned to Milford after the war and immediately got a job, not thinking much about finishing high school.

“I came home, went to work - just did my thing,” said Leon.

The brothers both attended the graduation and said they plan to frame their new diplomas and share them with family. Leon also joked that he might apply for some student loans for college.

Elmer said their stories are typical for the Milford veterans, many of whom had to pull strings to enter the workforce without a high school diploma.

“Now, we can honor them,” said Elmer. “They deserve this diploma. I’m just sorry it has taken us 70 years to figure that out.”

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Information from: KSL-TV, https://www.ksl.com/


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