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Veteran of WWII receives diploma



Published: Sat, April 6, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Esarco said he wouldn't change a thing concerninghis decision to leave school.

By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

POLAND -- Township resident Alex Esarco has traveled around the world, fought in a war, reared three children and spent years working in the steel industry, but last week he closed a decades-old chapter in his life.

Esarco, 75, received his 1946 high school diploma from Poland Seminary High School under a new law allowing World War II veterans who left high school early to receive their diplomas.

The law allows Ohio school boards to award a high school diploma to any World War II veteran (those serving in the U.S. armed forces any time between Sept. 16, 1940, and Dec. 31, 1946), who is an Ohio resident if the veteran left a public or nonpublic school located in any state before graduation to serve in the armed forces; the veteran received an honorable discharge from the armed forces; and the veteran previously has not been granted a high school diploma.

"This really does close an important chapter in my life that I missed out on," he said.

Off to war: In 1942, Esarco was living in Edinburg, Pa., a happy, well-rounded high school sophomore at Union High School in New Castle, Pa., but war-related tragedy and a call to arms would put an early end to his high school career.

He watched friends go off to fight the war and learned his best friend was killed in action before deciding it was time to serve his country.

"The hype was up, the war was on and I had buddies that were going," he recalls. "My best friend had been killed, and I decided it was time to go see what I could do to help. That's the way you think when you are young. As you get older, you get wiser."

Esarco packed his bags and headed off to the Army at 17, hot on the heels of an older brother, Gerald, who had already left high school to fight in the war.

That is one decision the wisdom obtained over the next five decades would not change. Looking back, he said he would have made the same decision today if given the opportunity to change history.

From 1944 to 1946, Esarco was in U.S. troop transport and made 12 trips across the North Atlantic to places such as north Africa, Italy, France, Germany and London, England. Those years are captured in an extensive collection of pictures, news clippings, letters, awards and most important, the vivid images in Esarco's mind's eye.

Esarco said his most memorable experiences during the war were with the many men he helped transport back to the United States. Some made the trip home alive, others were not so fortunate, and many died en route. He said those men, his fellow soldiers, were reminders of the pains of war.

"Those were traumatic experiences, but you couldn't do anything about it," he said.

Eventually, Esarco returned to the area and found a job at Sharon Steel Corp., Farrell. He would have returned for his diploma, but said life just moved forward. He married his wife, Anne, in 1948 and eventually had three children.

Esarco acknowledges that the country and the mind-set of the people were different in the 1940s, but said the feeling of patriotism is still alive now. Looking at young people now, he believes that under the same conditions as seen with World War II, young people would gladly set aside the carefree days of their late teens and young adulthood to defend the country -- even if that meant leaving high school to do it.

jgoodwin@vindy.com




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