For Duane Devere Reynolds Sr., an American hero with a World War II trove of medals that includes three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, the words of a Delphos Jefferson superintendent in 1946 must have left him both with a sense of incredulity and one of rancor, feelings that never really left him over the seven decades it took for him to raise a family of four boys, forge a 56-year marriage to his beloved Vivian, and become a very successful area businessman as the owner of Reynolds Plumbing and Heating.
During the interview for a Veterans Day story I would write on Reynolds’ combat experiences in the South Pacific on the islands of Peleliu and Okinawa, two of the largest and bloodiest amphibious assaults in American military history, an interview conducted at Lost Creek Care Center with the 90-year-old Reynolds with, at his side, his son Duane, a friend of mine since our time together in Sister Joseph Andre’s second-grade class at St. Charles Elementary, Reynolds spoke of his experiences both during the war and as a wounded GI returning home.
One of those postwar moments came when he went back to the high school he’d left before the end of his sophomore year to follow two older brothers into military service in defense of a nation left reeling by that day of infamy when 2,402 Americans perished at Pearl Harbor.
The intention of Reynolds in arranging a meeting with the school superintendent from long ago was a matter of routine for almost any other school and any other administrator for those boys brave enough to forego their high school senior year and pass on what was then called the promenade and also eschew an opportunity to don an early-June gown and mortarboard to have their up-close encounters with another kind of mortar.
That routine matter was requesting a diploma be conferred as partial payback for sacrificing the last precious memories of childhood to fight along side men in unimaginable combat chaotic environments.
Try to picture if you can the young Reynolds, after multiple surgeries, left with enough steel to set off every metal detector he would ever encounter, standing before that superintendent from long ago and hearing that school official tell him that he would need to complete a 13-week course in American history before he would qualify for a diploma.
And, the irony of someone who, for three-plus combat-traumatized years lived such an important phase of American history, being told he’d need to complete three-plus months’ worth of classroom history was as immense that October day when I did the interview as it must have been in 1946. I knew that when Mr. Reynolds looked me square in the eye and, not mincing a single syllable, said to me, “I looked him square in the eye and said, ‘You son of a bitch’ and turned around and walked out of his office.”
Well, following that Veterans Day story on my hometown newspaper’s front page, a story read by those throughout our area, including our Delphos neighbors to our immediate west, some wheels began to turn, especially in the office of Delphos City Schools Superintendent Kevin Wolfe regarding a slight now seven decades old.
I was thrilled to find out from my friend Duane Reynolds Jr., that that the man he affectionately calls “Pops” had been contacted by Wolfe to have that long-ago diploma, years deferred, now conferred. Initially, Duane Reynolds Jr. told me that Pops was still angry enough about the long-ago affair to decline the offer. I told Junior that I hoped Dad would reconsider and left it at that.
Well, I’m guessing, after the proper amount of time it takes to soul search some 70 years, Mr. Reynolds apparently came to a more conciliatory decision. I knew that when I received an email from Merri Hanjora at The Lima News offices. She wanted me to know that Wolfe called The Lima News and was looking for me. She said Wolfe wanted me to know that he received word that Mr. Reynolds would indeed accept the gesture of a conferred diploma.
Wolfe told Merri that at a board meeting a resolution was passed and that Duane Devere Reynolds Sr. at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lost Creek Care Center would indeed become a graduate of Delphos Jefferson High School. Hanjora offered no word as to whether “Senior” will accompany the name that surely wouldn’t have had that title in 1946.
I’m thrilled, both for Mr. Reynolds and for Wolfe and the rest of the Delphos community that a redress can now be rectified. The fact that it comes during the Christmas season makes it, somehow, feel even more special.
And, after some seven long decades that surely must have passed for Mr. Reynolds, as time does for all of us, at the blink of one eyelid for each 10 years, the name “Reynolds” and the word “redress” can now so rightly be placed in the same sentence.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.