WW II Veterans Participate in Mount Union College Commencement Ceremonies

April 01, 2010

When Ben Minkin of Lima attended graduation ceremonies for a friend recently, it brought back the memory of receiving his Mount Union College diploma in 1943. However, there was no cap and gown and no pomp and circumstance involved when he received his diploma.

"I was knee-deep in a muddy field in California when they handed me my diploma," remembers Minkin, who was enlisted in the military and unable to attend his graduation. World War II interrupted his college career, and although he was able to finish his degree, he was never able to participate in a traditional graduation ceremony.

"I started to think, 'wouldn't it be nice to graduate in cap and gown,'" said Minkin. "I decided to contact the College about the possibility of participating in a graduation ceremony. And I knew if I felt this way, there must be others like me."

Minkin graduated in cap and gown at the Sunday, May 11 commencement ceremonies at Mount Union College. He was joined by two other Mount Union graduates, William Hunter and Earle Wise, who were serving their country during World War II and unable to make that ceremonious walk across the stage nearly 60 years ago.

In 1938 Minkin was a student at Mount Union, planning to go on to medical school. When the war became eminent and he knew it would be unlikely he would be able to finish medical school, he began working toward a bachelor's degree. He had been flying for nearly a year through a civilian pilot training program when he signed up for the air corp and was sent to basic training in California. He finished his studies at Mount Union, however, he was in California when the graduation ceremony was held.

His work in the military sent him to various locations, including the South Atlantic where he was part of an anti-submarine patrol. He was in China for nine months with the 14th Air Force bombing group, known as the "Flying Tigers." He came home from China before the war ended and began his career in business.

William Hunter of Euclid finished his courses at Mount Union in the summer of 1943. A government and history major, Hunter also minored in drama and speech.

"I participated in 3-act plays every semester. Drama was my main extracurricular activity," recalled Hunter. The war was underway, and Hunter chose to participate in a program offered by the Navy for people who had just finished or were close to finishing college.

"I was sent to Chicago to Northwestern University, which the Navy had taken over, for midshipman's school," said Hunter.

His involvement in the Navy led him overseas, where he was part of the invasion of Normandy. Hunter's career was spent as a principal and administrator for various schools. He served as principal of North Lincoln, Franklin and Riverside in the Alliance area, was an assistant principal and later principal of Euclid High School. He finished his career as an administrator for Maple Heights School District.

When he was contacted by Mount Union about the possibility of participating in graduation ceremonies, Hunter said he immediately agreed, thinking that it would "be fun."

"I have a lot of history at Mount Union," said Hunter, whose sister, two brothers, daughter and two grandsons are all graduates of the College.

Earle Wise of Alliance was also unable to take part in his graduation ceremonies in 1943 because he was in the service. Although he would have liked to participate in the graduation ceremonies that year, his unique situation lead to a memorable moment for his mother. Mount Union offered her the opportunity to take part in the ceremony and accept his diploma.

"She had not even graduated from high school, and it was one of her greatest moments," Wise recalls fondly.

Wise spent several years in the service, and he was eventually sent to Korea for two years as part of the military government. When he returned to the States, he attended law school, graduating from the University of Michigan. He practiced law for many years in Canton and became a judge for the court of appeals.

Following the graduation ceremony, which resulted in a standing ovation for the three veterans, Minkin said that he was "thrilled" with the experience.

"I was momentarily taken back 60 years," said Minkin. "It did not feel like it was a stage that I was on when I received my diploma-- it felt more like a cloud!"

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