HONOR —Berdyll Hanrath signed up for World War II while still in the eighth grade and never went back to school.
Now 87 years old, he took his place on Sunday among 39 graduates of Frankfort High School to accept a high school diploma.
“I didn’t even throw my hat. I figured I’d have to go and pick it up,” he joked.
Hanrath left the eighth grade in 1942, but had to wait another year to enter the service at age 18. He received little training for his journey ahead — he took part in the second wave assault of the heavily defended Normandy beaches. Today marks the 69th anniversary of D-Day, one of history’s most dangerous amphibious assaults.
“I can’t hardly talk about the war,” he said. “It brings back too many memories. But I got some things wrote down. I got the Purple Heart and things like that.”
Hanrath fetched a box of medals he keeps at his neatly kept home in Honor, tucked off Platte River Road. He was an Army rifleman in the Spearhead Division and ran a 50-caliber machine gun in the turret of an armored, half-track vehicle. He was in the turret when a mortar dropped in the back of the half track. It killed a dozen soldiers, but spared him and the driver.
“After I got to England in the hospital, I never seen the driver again,” he said. “I don’t know if he made it or not. I think I was fortunate to get wounded at the time I did. My outfit, there weren’t very many that got to Germany. They died on the way.”
Hanrath was hospitalized for almost five months for a concussion. When he returned home he married, raised four children, and headed up maintenance at the Benzie County school district.
He now lives alone, but he said he isn’t lonely. He works on his shiny Model A, and drives it to different cities with his auto club. Back in 2005, he drove 3,500 miles to Willow, Alaska, and spent only about $1,750 on the trip, thanks to the kind folks who treated him to meals.
Frankfort high school librarian Janet Pomerleau heard about his Model A and invited him to bring it to the school’s May prom. “It was a perfect day for prom,” and kids posed with Hanrath and his Model A for photos, she said.
After chatting with Hanrath, she wanted to honor his service, and asked him if he’d be interested in receiving a diploma. Under state law, the school could offer him “life credits.”
“He said, ‘Oh great! Do you think I could get a better job?’ He’s just charming,” Pomerleau said.
Frankfort High School Principal Matt Stapleton asked Hanrath if he wanted a more sedate graduation ceremony, separate from the other students.
He said, ‘Absolutely not. I want to do it exactly like the kids do. I waited 70 years, and I want to do it the right way,” Stapleton said.
Hanrath said the senior girls watched out for him at Sunday’s ceremony, showing him a short-cut to his seat and helping him up the stairs.
The audience of about 500 people rose from their seats as Hanrath marched in, said Frankfort-Elberta Superintendent Tom Stobie, himself a veteran.
“It was quite emotional. He was, everyone was,” Stobie said. “Throughout the afternoon, he got three standing ovations. It was probably the best graduation since I’ve been here.”