94-year-old WWII veteran receives birthday wish of high school diploma

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MARQUETTE/MUNISING– John Wapienik left Mather High School in Munising in 1942. In just 10th grade, he left to join the workforce.

“He worked at the Munising Paper Mill and he drove truck for a long time. He entered the U.S. Army in December of 1943,” said Congressman Jack Bergman, (R-MI, 1st District).

Serving primarily as military police during WWII, John spent time in Normandy, Northern France and the Rhineland. He was even wounded twice in 1944.

Throughout all of these years, there was something John was missing and that he wanted, a high school diploma.

“It’s been something he’s been wanting to do,” said Tassi Hodgins, John’s daughter. “Like he said, he wants all of us, his family basically to know that he was smart enough to finish school and get his diploma. But, we know he did above and beyond that.”

With the new school year coming up, John told his daughter Tassi that for his 94th birthday next week that he wants to go back to school.

“And I told him that I didn’t think that was a possibility, and he said yes with all of the kids you get off to school and the grandkids, you can drive me every day too,” said Tassi.

So, Tassi thought of another way to celebrate her father. She contacted Congressman Jack Bergman’s office and they were able to set up a surprise graduation ceremony for John with his family by his side.

“He stepped up for our country as a young high schooler in WWII,” said Rep. Bergman. “So many people did that and there is not many Johns left in the world who are still here. For him, by God’s grace to be here to not only celebrate his birthday but to get his high school diploma which is what he had asked for as his birthday present, it’s such an honor.”

“What he did to serve our country would probably have exceeded what he did in high school,” said Pete Kelto, Superintendent, Munising Public Schools.

John’s family says this special surprise is something he won’t soon forget.

“This will be a long conversation for days and days and days and weeks,” said Tassi.

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