Nearly six decades later, Forsythe receiving diploma

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The Courier-Herald

Richard Forsythe refers to it as "marching with the troops."

The unintentional military reference can't be helped. After all, Forsythe's saunter across the stage at Pacific Lutheran University's Olson Auditorium Saturday night to receive his diploma with the 225 other White River High School seniors is because he left high school nearly 60 years ago to fight in World War II and never received a diploma.

"This is probably the highest point of the year," Forsythe said. "White River is really doing me a great honor."

Forsythe is the first Buckley resident to take advantage of recent legislation that allows honorably discharged veterans to receive a diploma. Candidates must have World War II service, ties to the school district and not finished high school or received a diploma.

Veterans in other districts have received diplomas, either in the mail or in special ceremonies, but Forsythe said he had not heard of one where the district let them participate in commencement exercises.

Forsythe said he specifically did not want to cut in on White River seniors' special day.

But Superintendent Jay Hambly said the seniors were quite receptive.

"The senior class was very supportive," Hambly said. "The seniors said they would be honored."

In preparation for Saturday, Forsythe picked up and pressed his cap and gown, met his "classmates" last week, and will run through rehearsal on Friday.

It's a far cry from where he was the day he was supposed to graduate in 1943.

On his 17th birthday, Feb. 18, 1942, his junior year of high school, Forsythe dropped out of school to join the service, the Marine Corps to be specific.

In August 1942 he landed with the first wave of Marines at Guadalcanal. While his classmates were graduating, he was coming out of combat in the western Pacific.

He was discharged in 1946, and in 1950 was planning on going back to get his diploma, when his reserve unit was called to serve in the Korean Conflict.

"I never did get it done," Forsythe said of the piece of paper that means so much to him today. "Because jobs were plentiful and a high school education wasn't that important at the time."

Forsythe worked as a civil servant for the department of Army and Navy and also worked in the supply department of the Renton School District.

Even so, a diploma still means everything.

"Just to have it," Forsythe explained. "All my kids have one. Ellen's got her GED. I'm the only one who doesn't."

Ellen, his wife of nearly 60 years, left her junior year of high school to join the service, too. She earned her GED 20 years ago.

Forsythe said he's just appreciative of all the people who have had a hand in this moment - Hambly, White River High Principal Keith Banks and the White River High graduating class of 2003.

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