As Carroll County Public Schools students are preparing to return to school, one former student is graduating after 71 years.
Richard Zepp, an 87-year-old World War II veteran, received his diploma from the school district Wednesday, more than seven decades after he dropped out of Hampstead High School.
"I could've used it 50 years ago," Zepp joked Wednesday in a phone interview before adding that he's done pretty well for himself without a diploma.
Zepp, now a Glen Rock, Pa., resident, dropped out of high school in 1942 shortly after his father died to tend to the family's 37-acre Hampstead farm. Two years later, he joined the Navy to support his mother and younger brother.
Zepp served in the Navy for about two-and-a-half years as a Seaman First Class and a cook primarily on the USS Cecil J. Doyle. During his tenure, he survived several kamikaze attacks, supported the D-Day Invasion of Normandy and was among the first military personnel to assist Japanese residents after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
When asked about his military service, Zepp humbly responds that he was just doing his job.
"I did my part, that's all," he said.
Following his tenure in the Navy, Zepp worked as a carpenter with the Spring Grove State Hospital Center and as a machinist with Caterpillar. He also drove a school bus for in his retirement.
State law allows county boards of education to award high school diplomas to Korea and World War II veterans who left high school early to enter the military.
Carroll County last awarded a diploma to a military veteran in 2007 and have awarded 45 diplomas to veterans since 2001, according to Carroll County Public Schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis.
What would have been Zepp's alma mater, Hampstead High School, merged with Manchester High School in the late 1950s forming what is now North Carroll High School.
Zepp's son, also named Richard, contacted Carroll County Public Schools about awarding his father a diploma after Zepp missed his grandson's high school graduation this spring because of a fractured elbow.
Zepp's grandson, Josh, is following in his parents' and grandfather's footsteps. He will be joining the Navy in two weeks.
"This is really huge for our family," Richard said of honoring his father with his high school diploma.
Richard, a school board member with the Eastern York School District in Pa., honored veterans and students entering the military at the commencement ceremony. After hearing of another school district awarding a World War II veteran with their diploma, Richard proposed the idea to his father as a way to honor his service.
"It's important that generations honor the older generation and never forget their sacrifice," Richard said.
Zepp said he was "very proud" of his son and grandson for entering the military.
"It tells me that they love their country," he said.
Zepp last lived in Carroll County in 1965.