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WWII veteran finally walks across graduation stage 81 years after being shipped off to war before commencement

WWII veteran finally walks across graduation stage 81 years after being shipped off to war before commencement

A Second World War veteran finally got the chance to walk across the stage for his high school diploma this month – 81 years after he was drafted and forced to miss his own graduation.

Harlan Olson, aged 101, walked across the stage in his cap and gown earlier this month. He was escorted by Grace Nonnemacher, a senior at Denfeld High School in Duluth, Minnesota, the same school that the veteran graduated from in 1943.

Olson was drafted into the US Infantry Division aged 19 during his graduating year, before he got a chance to receive his diploma. His father had to pick up the diploma from the high school. Olson’s family brought his original diploma to the school on June 6 so it could be handed back to him by the principal. The man’s sons, wife and members of his extended family attended the ceremony.

Harlan Olson, 101, accepts his diploma at Denfeld High School this month alongside senior Grace Nonnemacher
Harlan Olson, 101, accepts his diploma at Denfeld High School this month alongside senior Grace Nonnemacher (Duluth Public Schools )

Olson served for three years fighting on the front lines in Germany, Northern News Now reported.

His story came to light after Nonnemacher suggested that he join her graduating class as they received their diplomas.

The two have known each other since she was six years old, when her family joined the church he attends.

One day over coffee, the veteran told her the story of how he missed his own special day. Nonnemacher’s father, Dave Nonnemacher, told KARE 11 he believed that “that man needs to walk across the stage and get his diploma handed to him.”

His daughter thought the idea was “really cool” and Denfeld High’s principal agreed. “My reaction was, we will find a way to make that happen,” Tom Tusken said.

Harlan Olson, 101, walks across the stage at Denfeld High School with senior Grace Nonnemacher
Harlan Olson, 101, walks across the stage at Denfeld High School with senior Grace Nonnemacher (Duluth Public Schools )

Olson said that he first thought “holy sh*t” when presented with the plan but said he’d do it as long as the younger Nonnemacher escorted him across the stage. As Olson walked across the stage using his walker, the auditorium erupted into a sustained standing ovation.

“Harlan, on behalf of Duluth Public Schools and Denfeld High School, congratulations,” Tusken said, handing the veteran his diploma back.

“Thank you very much,” Olson replied. The rest of the graduating class then followed suit.

After Nonnemacher got her diploma, she hugged Olson, and said: “I’m so proud of you”.

When asked by reporters how he planned to celebrate the occasion, he jokingly said he would “go to bed”.


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