A defender of liberty:World War II veteran receives diploma Sunday

A defender of liberty:World War II veteran receives diploma Sunday Vermillion School Board President Tom Craig presents James Dahlman with his high school diploma at Sunday's commencement ceremony. Accompanying Dahlman are his daughters, Linda Nickel, Hartington, NE, and Carlotta Kruse, Vermillion. by David Lias James Dahlman listened to student speakers at Sunday's Vermillion High School commencement exercises talk about how their lives were about to change.

He proudly watched members of the graduating class of 2001, including his grandson, Matthew Kruse, file up onto the stage of Slagle Auditorium and receive their diplomas.

And then, in a rare moment he thought he'd never experience, the 74-year-old Dahlman stepped back in time.

He gingerly walked on the auditorium's stage with the assistance of his daughters, Carlotta Kruse, Vermillion, and Linda Nickel, Hartington, NE, and received his high school diploma from Vermillion School Board President Tom Craig.

The audience responded with a minute-long standing ovation.

It was a fitting tribute to a man that Superintendent Robert Mayer describes as "a defender of liberty."

Had Dahlman enjoyed a typical high school education at Vermillion High School, he would have graduated in the mid-1940s.

But when he was 16 years old, and only a sophomore in high school, the U.S. Army called him into service.

"I'm graduating now because I didn't graduate when I was supposed to," he said, sitting in the front row of the auditorium, wearing a mortarboard and gown.

After the draft plucked him from Vermillion, it sent him to basic training at Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

He was assigned to serve on a ship in the Pacific Theatre as part of the United States' efforts to defeat the war machine of Japan.

After Japan surrendered, he was among the first group of American soldiers who occupied the country to help bring stability to a world that had experienced years of chaos.

"Almost 60 years ago, millions of Americans answered the call to defend this great land against the forces of tyranny during World War II," Mayer said in his introduction of Dahlman. "One of their leaders, five star General Douglas MacArthur, said, 'The American soldier who gives his life in service to his country is the finest development of mankind.' And Tom Brokaw said those who lived in that era were our greatest generation."

The South Dakota Legislature has made it possible for schools to give diplomas to American veterans of World War II whose education was interrupted by the war.

"We at Vermillion High School have that distinct privilege," Mayer said.

Dahlman served in the U.S. Army from October 1944 to October 1946. He served in the Pacific Theatre and was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Asian Pacific Service Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal with one Bronze Service Star, and the Army Occupation Medal.

Dahlman may not have formally earned a high school degree, but as his son-in-law, Sam Nickel noted, "his experience in the military is more than the equivalent of a high school education."

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