Seventy years ago, a high school diploma didn’t seem all that important.
Damon Monschein’s parents had divorced, and he wanted to work to support his mother. Then his country needed him.
So instead of graduating with his class at an Indianapolis high school, Monschein joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Korea. He spent 13 months traveling the mountains and fields of the country in the infantry. His job was to help prepare and fire mortars, fighting North Korea.
After five years in the Marines, Monschein was discharged and spent the rest of his life working as a painter and welder, in construction and installing signs. Not having a diploma never impacted his ability to find work, he said.
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“I’ve been working all my life,” he said.
But getting that piece of paper, showing he is a high school graduate, was always in the back of his mind. Earning his diploma and retiring are the two accomplishments he has wanted to achieve his whole life, he said.
Then he got a call from his old high school, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School, offering him his diploma.
Now, the thought of graduating and getting his diploma brings an excited smile to his face.
“It means a lot to me. I will be proud to have a diploma,” Monschein said.
Monschein has lived a full life, battling emphysema and cancer. Years ago, he was told a tumor near his bladder would require surgery and chemotherapy. He never did either.
The Greenwood resident still mows his lawn and is active in the Greenwood Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the Honor Guard, as Color Guard commander and the district and post sergeant of honor.
And if you head to the post on a Friday night, he will be glad to show you how he still can dance.
He has always worked, from starting in a factory in his first job, to working on the railroad as a welder, to framing up houses as a carpenter to eventually setting up liquor displays for 29 years.
The path to getting his diploma began when his friend and VFW commander Steve Milbourn brought him papers to sign.
High schools can award diplomas to veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War if they left high school to serve in the military. Milbourn knew Monschein was a Korean War veteran and filled out the paperwork for him, and then asked him to sign it.
Monschein questioned why he needed a diploma.
Milbourn’s response: “It’s something you didn’t get, and you should.”
For Monschein, dropping out made sense in 1946. He could work to help support his mother, and shortly after he and a friend joined the Marines.
Both were sent to Korea. The friend he joined with was shot and returned home. Monschein considers himself lucky that he was never injured, though he does have a piece of shrapnel behind his knee.
He spent more than a year in Korea, in frigid temperatures and multiple battles. In his time there, he never once saw a city, he said.
His time was spent in the mountains and fields in battle, or in bunkers dug into the ground. He learned how to layer his clothing so he could survive subzero temperatures and how important dry socks are to avoid hypothermia.
Monschein is the second veteran Milbourn has helped get his diploma. The honor is important because these veterans deserve recognition for the sacrifices they have made for their country, Milbourn said.
“He went in service of his country, and he forgot about himself,” Milbourn said.
Seeing the veterans at graduation also is beneficial for the teens earning their diplomas and just starting off their adult lives, Milbourn said.
When Monschein got the call from the high school principal, he was caught off guard and wasn’t sure how to respond. He initially declined to participate in the graduation ceremony.
He told fellow veterans at the VFW, and they knew he had to go. They wanted to see him graduate, and then throw a graduation party.
“All these people want me to go. So, if I’m going to graduate, I might as well do it in style,” Monschein said.
Monschein will be one of two veterans awarded a diploma at Howe’s graduation on Saturday, according to a spokeswoman for the high school.
Name: Damon Monschein
Family: Married with two sons
Service: Marine Corps for 5 years, Korean War veteran
Honor: Being awarded his diploma from Thomas Carr Howe Community High School 70 years after dropping out