88 year old veteran receives high school diploma

Published Jun 18, 2013 at 10:38 am (Updated Jun 19, 2013 at 11:27 am)

Over the years, Lawrence H. “Bud” Simon has attended the graduations of his children and his grandchildren, but on June 15 the tables were turned as family members watched him receive his high school diploma.

“The grandkids are more excited than I am,” said 88-year-old Simon. “It’s not that often that grandchildren get to see their grandfather graduate from high school.”

Simon, a WWII veteran, received his honorary diploma from Bethel Park High School through a program that allows school districts to present diplomas to veterans who did not graduate high school because they were serving in WWII.

Vicki Flotta, district director of communications, said the Simon was the 11th veteran to receive a diploma from the district. He was only the second veteran to actually participate in the graduation ceremony with that year’s graduating students.

Simon currently resides in Pleasant Hills. But, in 1942, he was attending Library High School, which at that time was part of what would become the Bethel Park School District. At age 17, he left school to serve in the United States Navy, and missed graduating with the Class of 1944.

“I was living with a foster family and because we worked on the farm, I couldn’t get involved in school activities,” said Simon. “(When the war started) I said to myself ‘You’ve got a way out of here.’”

The teenager told his mother that if she didn’t sign for him to join the U.S. Navy, he would join the Merchant Marines without her permission.

Simon saw action as a submariner in the Pacific serving first on the USS Porpoise and then the USS Cavalla.

During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Cavalla sunk the Japanese Aircraft Carrier Shokaku, which had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The submarine then survived depth charges fired by the Japanese fleet.

“We played a game of cat and mouse with the Japanese destroyers,” Simon said.

For its part in the battle, the Cavalla earned a Unit Presidential Citation.

“Being part of the turning point in the war made us very proud,” Simon said.

Simon said he did not mind the conditions on the submarines where the crew would “hot bunk,” meaning the shift getting off duty would go to sleep in the bunks vacated by the crew going on duty.

“I enjoyed the comradery,” he said of his time in the service.

After the war, Simon returned to Pennsylvania and met his wife, Lois, on a blind date. The couple settled in West Mifflin, where they raised a son, Larry, and a daughter, Lynn. “Bud” Simon worked for Continental Can until the company went out of business. He then worked for Liberty Candy.

A neighbor got Simon interested in archery, and that led to him becoming national archery official, officiating at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He also served as the archery commissioner for the 2002 Senior Olympics, and was a touch runner for the 2002 Winter Olympics when the torch passed through Pittsburgh on its way to Salt Lake City

Simon taught the youth archery program at the Clairton Sportsman’s Club for 44 years and still frequently visits the club.

A widower since 2008, Simon has three granddaughters.

Simon said a friend got him the paperwork to apply for the program allowing veterans to receive a high school diploma, but never really followed through with it until he decided to apply to the West Mifflin School District, the district from which his children had graduated. That district referred him to Bethel Park.

“(Bethel Park) went head over heels to accommodate me,” he said.

Simon admitted that he was “nervous”’ about walking with the current graduates, but that getting a high school diploma was “on my bucket list.”

While the younger graduates wore the traditional cap and gown, Simon wore the “crackerjack”-style Navy dress uniform he wore during WWII.

“It was a little snug, but it still fit,” said Simon.”It amazed everyone that it still fit.”

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