Art Ihrig was supposed to graduate with the Dormont High School Class of 1942.
He almost certainly learned more during the past seven decades than in a few years at Dormont High; however, of his many accomplishments, a high school diploma slipped away, almost without a thought.
During its meeting, the Keystone Oaks School Board awarded Arthur L. Ihrig, an 89-year-old World War II veteran, the diploma he didn't get to accept with his classmates.
"We never talked about it," Ihrig said of his missed diploma. "All this—I'm amazed. I'm dazed. I didn't know it would be like this. This is great."
Pennsylvania's Operation Recognition program allows school districts to grant diplomas to World War II veterans who were honorably discharged. Ihrig received a diploma that says "Dormont High School," since that is his true alma mater.
Dormont Elementary School now sits on the site of the former Dormont High School building on Annapolis Avenue.
Bruce Ihrig and Marsha Grabowski, two of Ihrig's seven children, were in the audience to watch their father graduate from high school, something most children don't get to see their parents do. Another daughter, Pam Fonseca, lives in Ohio and couldn't attend the ceremony, but it was she who first contacted the district and helped organize the event.
"When we found out we'd be able to watch him be presented by the board, I got choked up," Grabowski said. "We're just very honored, and very proud of him."
Ihrig grew up in Dormont, and now lives in Whitehall. His family is planning a 90th birthday party at the Brentwood VFW in September, and Grabowski said the family is anxious to see the diploma that was 70 years in the making.
Ihrig was a 17-year-old senior at Dormont High School when his father died. To help his family, he left school in 1941 and went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
"We needed the money," he said. "We wouldn't eat if we didn't work, so I had to work."
He'd worked for about a year when he was drafted into the United States Army. He left his mother and six brothers and sisters, and sailed overseas, where he served from November 1942 to December 1945.
Ihrig's first assignment was at a field hospital in southern England, where he said he and the hospital staff cared for the first casualties of D-Day. He also served in France, Czechoslovakia and Germany, working as an intelligence agent, then as a military police officer.
His image appears in one of the photographs at the National WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Following the war, Ihrig was married twice. He has seven children—Art, Linda, Cindy, Pam, Marsha, Matthew and Bruce—and seven grandchildren. All of his grandchildren have graduated from high school, and one is currently serving in the military.
When asked if college would be his next step, Ihrig said, "At 90? Come on!" and laughed. He said he is thrilled to have his high school diploma, and hopes other veterans take advantage of the opportunity.
"I hope they do," he said. "I hope they come to me and ask me about it. This is just wonderful. This is just more than I ever expected."