Veteran receives diploma nearly 50 years later
By Maria Allard
Posted May 28, 2014
WARREN — While serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, John Sofranski earned the following medals: Presidential Unit Citation, National Defense Service, Vietnamese Service and Vietnamese Campaign.
He now has another accolade to add to his collection.
During the May 19 Van Dyke Public Schools Board of Education meeting, district Superintendent Joseph Pius presented Sofranski with his high school diploma as a member of the 1966 Lincoln High School graduating class.
Sofranski’s wife Janet and grandson Jaccob Ernst, 7, were present at the meeting, where he received a standing ovation from teachers, students and parents in the attendance. Board members and central office employees also offered their congratulations and thanked him for his military service.
“I’d like to thank my family. I’d like to thank all you people. I’d like to thank the people of the State of Michigan, and I’d like to thank the U.S. government,” the 67-year-old high school graduate said. “I appreciate all of you. Thank you very much.”
On March 25, 2014, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill into law that permits local school boards to grant high school diplomas to veterans who did not graduate but joined the Armed Forces during the Vietnam conflict. Prior to the new bill, school boards could only grant diplomas to World War II and Korean War veterans.
“I had a GED when I went in the service, but it’s not the same as having a high school diploma,” said Sofranski, who at one time enrolled in classes at Highland Park Community College. “It feels important to me. It took 50 years to get something like this.”
As a young man, Sofranski and his friend Charlie set out to join the U.S. Army.
“We went to Fort Wayne,” said Sofranski, now of Richmond. “I failed the testing. Charlie stayed in.”
But that didn’t keep him down. Sofranski eventually joined the Marine Corps in 1964, where he was “an infantry man.” He served four years of active duty (’64-’68) and two years in the Reserves (’68-’70.) Sofranski was in Vietnam in 1965-1966, where he served in combat and traveled throughout the Asian country, including to the cities of Phu Bai and Quinton.
“It is a beautiful country. It’s mountainous. It’s unforsaken the problems they have over here,” the military man said. “When you first get over there, you’re scared. When I went to Vietnam, you always go to see the chaplain. At that time, I made my peace with God.”
Sofranski has “never regretted” his time in the service and still communicates with the Marines.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” he said. “I’m proud to be a veteran. I am proud of all the man who served before and after me.”
John and Janet Sofranski have been married 35 years. Janet is a 1965 Fitzgerald High School, and the couple met after Sofranski’s stint in the service. Janet said her husband had been talking about receiving his diploma for a long time. He underwent a long process to obtain it.
“He worked hard to keep making his phone calls,” she said.
“They should do this for all service veterans,” Sofranski said. “We gave up two, three, four years. Some gave up their lives to serve this country.”
About the author
Staff Writer Maria Allard covers the school districts of Center Line, Fitzgerald, Van Dyke, Warren Consolidated and Warren Woods, and Macomb Community College for the Warren Weekly newspaper. She also covers the City of Grosse Pointe Woods and the Grosse Pointe Public Schools System for the Grosse Pointe Times newspaper. Allard has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University, and she is in love with the Rolling Stones.
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