Don Quaintance has had a lifetime of incredible experiences.
The World War II veteran has earned many medals and distinctions while serving his country-including two Purple Hearts.
On Monday, March 5, Quaintanced was officially recognized for completing a unique educational journey, as he was awarded his high school diploma.
“The criteria for awarding a diploma in this way is actually found in Wis. Statutes 120.13(37),” explained New London School District Administrator Bill Fitzpatrick. “According to state statutes, the individual: 1. Must be at least 65 years old; 2. Must have attended high school in the school District or attended a high school in the state and reside in the district; 3. Must have left high school before receiving a high school diploma to join the U.S. armed forces during a period of war; 4. Must have served on active duty under honorable conditions in the U.S. armed forces or in forces incorporated as part of the U.S. armed forces; and 5. Must meet the high school equivalency diploma requirements after serving on active duty under honorable conditions.”
Quaintance explained that he was 1/2 credit short of meeting graduation requirements when his class was ready for commencement ceremonies.
“My dad had wanted me to quit school and get a job when I turned 16, but I wouldn’t do it,” Quaintance said. “When high school graduation came, I was a little short on credits. They wanted me to walk anyways, but I said no. I was 20 years old at the time, because I had flunked grades 1, 2, and 3. The reason I flunked is because my family was often quarantined during the winter. It seemed we always were sick with something. At one point, my dad went to stay with relatives so that he wouldn’t get sick and miss work.
“When I did leave school, I couldn’t get a job, so I joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. When I got home, I threw my barrack bag down and hitchhiked to Waupaca, where I registered for the 21 year old draft. The year was 1942,” Quaintance explained. “Once in the service, I went through Ranger training and volunteered for Commando training. After those weeks of training, I realized I had been getting more education, and thought about getting my diploma someday.”
Quaintance’s military career took him across Europe and into the heart of some of the fiercest combat of WW II. He holds many memories of his time overseas, including his involvement at the Battle of the Bulge and his time at Bastogne.
“I was only about 120 pounds, and I was the smallest of the guys I jumped with in the 101st Airborne. They loaded us down with about 180 pounds of gear, and I couldn’t even climb into the plane. Two big, burly airmen grabbed me by the arms and hoisted me into the plane. When it came time to jump, two of the guys in line behind me actually jumped before me, because I could only shuffle my feet and move slowly towards the door,” recalled Quaintance. “I finally made it out, and completed many successful jumps after that.”
Many of Quaintance’s combat stories are being compiled by his family in hopes of making a book someday. An article recounting his most memorable Christmas is on display at the American Legion Hall on Water Street, as well as a case holding his many medals and significant decorations.
Finally, after a 72-year intermission, Quaintance can display his high school diploma alongside the many medals signifying his accomplishments.
“Our mission is success for all students. We describe success by assuring that our students demonstrate the following success indicators: They are effective communicators; they are life-long and self-directed learners; they are problem-solvers and critical thinkers; and they are responsible contributing citizens,” stated Fitzpatrick. “As you can tell from his life stories, Mr. Quaintance most assuredly exemplifies a lifetime filled with tangible evidence of those accomplishments. We are proud to award him a diploma from New London High School.”