In 1943, the world was at war with itself.
In the United States, millions of men and women willingly interrupted their lives to restore peace and order to the world, all of them made sacrifices in doing so, but this group of men did so at an almost incomprehensible time in their lives.
"It was something that had to be done and you knew that eventually you were gonna do it, so the sooner you get in, you get going, the sooner it gets over with," said Earl Arndt, who entered the U.S. Navy at age 17.
"Well, I wanted to do it, a lot of my friends were serving in the service," said Jim Rasmussen, who served in the Navy from 1944-46. "So, I wanted to be a part of it."
"We really had a cause at that war," said Calvin E. Tuxhorn, who at 17, left high school for the Navy. "Even as young as I was I knew that this was a war that had to be fought."
On Sunday, the Wisconsin Rapids class of 2004 received their diplomas. Along with them were these eight men who would have graduated in 1944, if it had not been for their joining the military to fight in World War II, but they can now on the same day that the world celebrates the D-Day anniversary call themselves high school graduates.
For the younger generation graduating, having the old soldiers and sailors on hand was something they'll never forget.
"It's just an honor," said Katie Wood, Wisconsin Rapids Class of 2004. "No other class is going to be able to have eight people from 60 years ago graduate with them, “and the fact that they didn't get their diplomas, that's an important part of any person's life."
But even without their diplomas, these men went on to lead successful lives.
Earl Arndt was a painter. Jim Rasmussen held several different sales positions and Calvin Tuxhorn served in the Wisconsin Rapids Fire Department, retiring as the assistant chief in 1978.
"Keep pretty busy all the time, a lot of fishing, a lot of polka dancing, keep busy all the time," said Tuxhorn.
The veterans say they are proud to be getting their diplomas and to be graduating with what Arndt calls a very promising group of kids.
"They're respectful of other people. They've got pride in themselves. They think a lot of their education," said Arndt.
One of the guest speakers at the commencement said the graduates at Sunday's ceremony held promise for a great future and represent a part of America's great past, but it could also be said that these men are the greatest part of America's history.
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