A long road to graduation day
Veteran gets honorary diploma after nearly 60 years
For Paul Born, Memorial Day represented something a little more special this year. Nearly 60 years after being drafted, the World War II and Korean War veteran received his high school diploma from Eudora High and a standing ovation from graduation attendees on Sunday.
Born said receiving his diploma after so many years was a dream he never realized could be a reality. But thanks to Operation Recognition, a program started by the Commission on Veterans' Affairs and EHS, his dream became a reality. The program presents honorary degrees to veterans who could not finish high school due to serving in World War II.
"I am feeling pretty good about it," Born said. "It's something I never thought I'd have."
Born completed only one year of high school before quitting to help his parents work their farm near St. Paul. He was drafted Feb. 13, 1942. Born said both he and his brother were shipped off to war, which made farming difficult for the family. Shortly after starting his service in California as a cook at 21, Born received word that his father died. Eventually, Born was stationed in Europe. Born said his father's death put even more stress on his family.
"It made it kind of bad, because (mom) was trying to survive with the little ones," he said.
He spent much of his time in Italy, shipping freight for the Air Force. He also spent time working on airplanes and building roads and bridges as an engineer in the war-torn European theatre.
After Germany surrendered in May 1945, Born traveled to the South Pacific to continue work with the Air Force. He went home three months after Japan surrendered in September 1945 but stayed in the reserves. Though he avoided injury during the conflict, he was hospitalized for a short time when he returned to Ft. Leavenworth.
"After I was home for two weeks, I got appendicitis," he said.
Born later served in the Korean War and was discharged.
"Then, I came home and had to make a living for my family so I went straight to work," he said.
Born had to start another war in the job market. Though there wasn't much difficulty in finding work, he said, finding a job with long-term potential proved to be a struggle.
"Things were kind of rough back then," he said. "You can't just go out and get jobs like you can today."
Born worked for a rock quarry near St. Paul but searched for a job with better pay. His search led him to Kansas City, Mo., to assemble automobiles for the General Motors plant. Though he lacked a high school diploma, Born said his experience in the military helped him find work.
"I took advantage of every opportunity I had to learn different things," he said. "I would get jobs, but they would poop out."
Then, he found a job that had what he wanted long-term potential. Kansas Power and Light (KP&L) hired him and moved his first wife, now deceased, and children to Eudora. He has lived in Eudora since 1951 and is now retired.
Born overcame the struggles of war, raising a family and the death of a spouse, yet a high school diploma seemed out of reach. After hearing about Operation Recognition, Born contacted Russ Haun, Kansas State Commander of the Disabled American Veterans. Haun put Born in contact with EHS, and the wheels went into motion for an honorary diploma.
As he accepted the diploma on Sunday, Born received a hero's recognition the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he crossed the stage to accept the diploma.
Reflecting on the event in his home on Monday, Born expressed his gratitude, and tears formed as he spoke.
"I've got to thank the people at the school," Born said. "I want them to know how thankful I am."
Lorraine Born, wife of eight years, said she appreciated the reaction from the crowd on Sunday and thought it was fitting. Once a widow of a World War II veteran, she said the recognition from the public was a "wonderful" show of appreciation.
"When I think about my (late) husband and all the veterans at the time, we struggled," she said. "That was an honor."