Sunday, October 5, 2003

A diploma long overdue

Lack of $40 led to 62-year delay

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The way he tells it, Bob Schmid had a tough decision to make in 1941.

Pay $40 to get his diploma and join the ranks of old Purcell High School's Cavalier alumni. Or help feed his brothers and sisters and parents for a week.

He chose the latter. He's never regretted that choice. "I've lived a good life," he said. "I'm not a bit bitter."

But he's always wanted that diploma from the East Walnut Hills Catholic school.

"He's talked about it ever since I was a little girl," said his daughter, Kris Wood, of Sheffield, England.

Schmid finally got his diploma - the original item no less - recently. The vellum document arrived just in time for his 80th birthday. Encased in a red leatherette holder, the diploma landed at his home in Lake Placid, Fla. Schmid moved there in 1982 after retiring from his truck driver's job in Cincinnati.

Credit for obtaining this one-of-a-kind graduation gift goes to people with heart: his daughter - "I swore we would pursue this to the end" - and two tireless staffers at what is today Purcell Marian High School.

"That's the least we could do," said Denny Johnson, Purcell's director of alumni and development and principal from 1977 to 1993. "This man is a Cavalier."

Schmid didn't feel like one in 1941. At his graduation, he got that bill for $40 because of a mule, not enough sleep and a mix-up.

A mule stepped on and broke the foot of Schmid's father. He couldn't work. So, young Bob Schmid delivered newspapers to help make ends meet.

"I made $18 a week getting up at 2 a.m. to deliver papers," he said. "Made 170 deliveries each weekday on my bicycle. I'd get home at 5:30 a.m. There was just enough time to get ready and go to school."

But the overnight job exhausted him, and he nodded off in class. His grades suffered. He failed three classes and went to night school to make them up. A clerical mix-up kept him from getting credit for those remedial courses. So, at graduation, he got a bill instead of a diploma.

He did not press the issue, instead enlisting in the Coast Guard in June 1941.

When World War II broke out, he found himself in the Navy and aboard the USS Lorain.

The frigate escorted convoys in the Atlantic. On one mission, Nazi warplanes strafed the convoy and hit a nearby ship. Debris slammed into the Lorain's deck, right where Schmid and his best friend were manning a gun. His friend died instantly. Schmid suffered injuries to his right leg and knee.

His war injury - "Don't call it a wound. I never shed any blood. I didn't earn a Purple Heart." - required a lifetime of treatments and operations.

He was in a hospital in 1948 when a Veterans Administration official wrote to Purcell inquiring about his diploma.

He can have it, the school's principal wrote back, when he completes the courses he failed.

"How cold," Purcell's Johnson said with 55 years of hindsight and tons more compassion. "This guy fought for our country. He was in a hospital bed. He deserved better."

After getting a call from Schmid's daughter, Johnson's dedicated assistant searched the school's attic and found the diploma, tucked in a box. Schmid received his gift at breakfast on his 80th birthday.

"Now, I'm an officially certified high school graduate," he said. "It was worth the wait."


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