DANVILLE — After 68 years, Ralph Heath can finally say he has received his high school diploma.
The 87-year-old World War II veteran, who was supposed to graduate May 22, 1946, recently had his commencement ceremony at the Beef House Banquet Hall. The superintendent of the Covington School District, the Covington High School Class of ‘46 and his grandchildren were present.
Heath’s granddaughter, Tracy Messer, noted that her grandfather became “emotional” as he turned his tassel.
“It felt as though a part of my life was missing, and this completed my life,” Heath said.
Heath has long wished for the opportunity to officially graduate from high school.
He expressed his desires to Messer after hearing veterans from the Danville school system were receiving their diplomas. Today, Heath is recognized as the first veteran to graduate from the Covington School District.
Since second grade, Heath had struggled to keep up with school. He suffered a broken arm and contracted the mumps, which made him unable to attend school for an entire year.
At age 15, he had to balance school and an eight-hour job at an aluminum plant in Lafayette, Ind. His daily commute from Covington to his job was time consuming.
“I got my sleep on the bus,” he added.
Heath enlisted into the Navy in 1944 at age 17 as a sophomore at Covington High School. He served in areas throughout the Pacific Ocean, such as New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, as a seaman and a gunner. He also was a part of the YMS-196 minesweeper and the USS YDG-5 degaussing vessel.
Heath recalled his most terrifying war experience, which occurred on Oct. 9, 1945, in Okinawa, Japan. He and his crew were aboard the USS YDG-5 during a typhoon.
“The degaussing ship was a wooden ship, and we rode out that typhoon. It was a bad experience. I think the Lord was on our side because our anchor caught onto a cable,” he recalled
Heath was named petty officer third class and received four other honorary medals: the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal and Philippine Liberation Medal. He was honorably discharged on April 1, 1946.
From 1950 to 1968, Heath worked at a milk transporting business. He opened his own automotive business, called Heath’s Automotive Specialists, in 1968. The business still runs today and is located on 1101 E. Fairchild St.