D-Day Vets: A Belated Graduation Ceremony in Scranton, Pa.

Members of an American landing party assist troops whose landing craft was sunk by enemy fire off Omaha Beach near Colleville-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 1944. (National Archives)

The photo is of D-Day, and I will get to that historic event in a minute. First, another historic event: the snuffing out — the murder, you could say — of Hong Kong. I have a piece about this on the homepage today: here. Hong Kong has been a great, free, vibrant city. By guarantee of the Sino–British Joint Declaration — inked on December 19, 1984, and put into effect on July 1, 1997 — the city was supposed to enjoy 50 years of autonomy. Instead, it received less than half that allotment (23 years). Hong Kong is now a city more or less like any other city in China: unfree, fearful, and under the control of the dictatorship in Beijing.

Nathan Law, the young Hong Kong politician and democracy leader — now in exile — put it to me this way: “2047 has arrived.” Hong Kong was supposed to have from 1997 to 2047. Unfortunately — cruelly, horrifyingly — 2047 arrived very early.

What about D-Day? Well, in an Impromptus column last week, I had a note on Henry Parham, who died at 99 on the Fourth of July. He was a D-Day vet — a man who belonged to an all-black unit, in those shamefully segregated days. In 2019, Parham said, “I did my duty. I did what I was supposed to do as an American.”

I received a letter from Lincoln Weiss:

The mention of the passing of Henry Parham made me think of one of the proudest days I ever had as a teacher.

I work at West Scranton High School in Scranton, Pa., and we are known as the “Invaders.” According to our principal, we are the only high school in the United States that took the name from the invaders of D-Day. . . .

On June 6, 2014, we had a commemorative event with a 21-gun salute, remarks by Brigadier General John Gronski, and — the best part — a graduation ceremony for all the West Scranton war veterans, including those at D-Day, who never received their high-school diploma because of being called for duty.

Before the ceremony, there was a Q and A with the vets. One of the questions the students asked was whether they were scared as they approached the Normandy beaches.

As one of the vets answered, you could hear a pin drop — not a common occasion with 850 high-school students. The answer was: “Yes, you were scared, but you didn’t think about it because you had a job to do.”

After the Q and A, we started the graduation ceremony, and as each man’s name was called, and he walked across the stage to receive his diploma, the kids cheered and clapped like we had just won the state football championship. I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it. The respect our kids had for these vets and the joy they showed as the vets walked across the stage to get their diploma gave (and still gives) me hope that our future is not as bleak as many believe.

Marvelous. And thank you to one and all.

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