Korean War vet receives Hilhi diploma decades after service
With his Hillsboro High School hat and jacket on, Korean War veteran Chester Conklin said he always regretted that his military service prevented him from finishing high school.
But with the help of Hilhi officials, the 90-year-old veteran, who has lived in the same Hillsboro home on Northeast 37th Street since 1959, recently received a diploma for the Class of 1949 — the year he would have graduated.
Some states, including Oregon, allow veterans of early and mid-20th-century wars to receive diplomas if they attended the school and entered military service before finishing.
"I heard about how I could get my diploma, and I thought I would give it a try," Conklin said, adding that he found the number for the high school and called.
School registrar Diana Farlow answered and listened to the story about why he couldn't finish.
After his junior year, Conklin's parents moved the family from Hillsboro to Sutherlin.
Conklin didn't want to spend his senior year at Sutherlin High School, he said, so he got a job working at a nearby timber company. When the Korean War started, a friend of his joined a recruiting program for 17-year-olds, and so Conklin joined the U.S. Navy.
He served for nearly four years, being stationed as a heavy equipment operator in the Philippines, where he primarily drove military vehicles on bases.
After hearing the story, Farlow passed the information to principal David Vickery, who approved Conklin's request for a diploma.
Farlow, the daughter of a military servicemember herself, says she and her husband decided to take him the diploma personally.
"He is just a special, special man," Farlow said. "If we can do something for someone who gave so much to our country, it had so much meaning for him."
Conklin said he was delighted to receive the diploma. He recalls he felt like he was doing very well in school before his parents moved.
"I was just so excited to get it, and (Farlow) was so nice to do it," Conklin said. "Another thing I loved is that my kids and relatives were all excited about it."
He said he did particularly well in his art class, where he developed an affinity for painting, a hobby that he continues today.
The walls of Conklin's home are decorated with paintings of Oregon's natural landscapes. Many are scenes of rivers where he has fished.
While he says he always regretted not finishing school, he said his military service was also a time of learning.
"There were good times and bad times, I suppose," Conklin said, adding that he made friends overseas and was glad not to have seen combat during the war.
The experience exposed him to a part of the world and people he never would have come into contact with otherwise. He says he remembers attending cultural events, such as parades in Filipino towns, when he was on leave. He also remembers political instability at the time, which was shortly after the United States granted the Philippines independence in 1946.
Conklin, who is still highly mobile and recently helped his neighbor clear debris out of their yard despite his age, says he has considered taking a trip back to the Philippines someday.
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