World War Two veterans awarded high school diplomas

From left, Dukes County Director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy, Donald Mitchell, Class of 1944, James Maciel, Class of 1943, and Superintendent of Martha's Vineyard Public Schools James Weiss after the diploma presentation. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Decades after their Tisbury High School classmates graduated, this week James Maciel, Class of 1943, and Donald Mitchell, Class of 1944, finally received their diplomas. The lapse was no one’s fault. World War II just happened to get in the way.

Both men left high school to serve their country. Mr. Maciel was drafted into the U.S. Army as a high school junior. He served in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps and was stationed in the Rhineland and central Europe. Mr. Mitchell dropped out of high school as a junior to join the U.S. Navy. He served as a Seabee in the South Pacific during the war and in China after the war.

Mr. Maciel, age 87, was born in West Tisbury. After the war he came back to the Island to work as a plumber with Manuel Maciel Plumbing. Later he started his own business, James P. Maciel Plumbing, in Vineyard Haven. His son Corliss “Corly” took over the business when he retired in 1987, and he and his wife Leona moved to Zypherhills, Florida. She died in 2009.

Mr. Mitchell, age 86, was born in Chilmark and grew up on Quansoo Farm. He said after the war he returned to the Vineyard and went into the “two F’s, farming and fishing.” He currently lives in Vineyard Haven with his wife, Hilda.

On Wednesday, Dukes County Director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy presented the veterans with their diplomas in a ceremony held at the Ocean View restaurant, attended by a small group of family members and friends. Since Tisbury High School no longer exists, the diplomas were granted from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), with the graduation dates correctly noted as 1943 and 1944.

Superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools James Weiss also attended the ceremony to congratulate the two new graduates. “It’s a wonderful thing that we can give diplomas to veterans after all these years,” he said.

Operation Recognition

The late-awarded diplomas were made possible through the Massachusetts Department of Veteran Services program called “Operation Recognition.” The Welcome Home Bill signed on November 11, 2005, in Massachusetts allows high schools to award diplomas to World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans who left school before graduation in order to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and were honorably discharged. Mr. Weiss said another group of Island veterans received their diplomas through the program a few years ago.

Ms. Murphy had already submitted the paperwork for Mr. Mitchell’s diploma as a surprise for him. Then about three weeks ago, Mr. Maciel’s son Neal stopped by Ms. Murphy’s office to ask about the possibility of doing the same thing for his father, who is home for a visit on Martha’s Vineyard this month.

Neal Maciel, a former State Police Island Commander and Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) inspector, is co-owner of the Vineyard Auto School and the MVRHS driver’s education instructor. He said he thought of the idea of getting his dad his high school diploma when they drove up from Florida together.

Ms. Murphy filled out the paperwork, and enlisted the aid of MVRHS principal Steve Nixon and Ruda Stone, his administrative assistant, to expedite the process. With their help, Mr. Maciel’s diploma was ready within several days instead of several weeks.

Caught by surprise

The diploma presentation, arranged by Neal Maciel and Ms. Murphy, came as a complete surprise to the two veterans. Mr. Mitchell said while he was in the Navy, he wrote to the principal of Tisbury High School at that time and asked about finishing high school. He never received a reply, so he said he didn’t bother to ask about it again when he returned home.

In addition to Mr. Maciel receiving his unexpected diploma, he also had some surprise guests to share his momentous occasion. His sisters Mary Hofmann of Oak Bluffs, Evelyn Christopher of Vineyard Haven, and Anna Constantine of New Bedford attended, along with his son “Corly” and grandson Denver Maciel.

George Santos, a former Tisbury High School classmate and American Legion member, and American Legion Post 257 past commander Ed Colligan also joined in the celebration.

Neal Maciel said he hopes that more veterans and their families will become aware of “Operation Recognition” and take advantage of the program. For more information, contact Ms. Murphy at 508-693-6887.