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.
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.