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WWII Marine veteran, 98, receives diploma 2 days before his death

A 98-year-old Marine veteran who enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17 during World War II was awarded a high school diploma two days before his death.

Richard Remp, who was receiving hospice care in Maryland, received his diploma Friday thanks to a whirlwind effort that involved one school superintendent driving 4.5 hours to reach him in time. He died Sunday, said James Cappuccilli, second vice commander of American Legion Post 247 in Poolesville, Maryland.

“All the dominoes lined up,” said Cappuccilli, a Marine veteran. “And if one little piece was not in place, none of this would have occurred.”

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During World War II, a 17-year-old Remp joined the Marine Corps, and he would go on to serve for more than 20 years, DC News Now reported in 2021.

As a gunnery sergeant, Remp served as a door gunner in the Vietnam War, according to Cappuccilli, who pointed out that he could have avoided that dangerous work but chose it anyway.

While on a reconnaissance mission in Vietnam in December 1966, Remp helped extract nine Marines who were surrounded by Viet Cong forces, DC News Now reported. With his helicopter hovering over the pickup area for more than an hour under fire, Remp fired more than 1,000 rounds at enemy forces, enabling the Marines to be saved, according to the outlet.

Despite a lifetime of proven toughness, Remp was a gentle man, “a peach,” Cappuccilli said.

“You would have never known he was a Marine, other than we talked a lot of Marine stuff,” he said.

And Remp had a mischievous sense of humor, said Cappuccilli, who said the nonagenarian was “funny, funny, funny.”

In February, Cappuccilli, a former high school guidance counselor, had the idea of honoring Remp by securing him a high school diploma. Initially believing Remp was a graduate of Sharon High School in Sharon, Pennsylvania, Cappuccilli got in touch with school officials there, he said.

Justi Glaros, superintendent of the Sharon City School District, quickly agreed to speak with with her school board and see what she could do.

Glaros learned that Pennsylvania allowed the awarding of high school diplomas to veterans who didn’t graduate from high school because they had served in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. Remp had served in all three.

“From our board, it was no question, 100%, we would like to give Mr. Remp an honorary diploma,” Glaros said.

But as she dug through yearbooks, she discovered there had been a mixup: Remp actually had attended a different high school nearby. That school board got to work on securing a diploma.

On May 14, Cappuccilli learned Remp had been diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer and was in hospice care. He called Glaros to tell her Remp was very ill and to thank her for her efforts, he said.

Glaros wasn’t giving up. She reached out to the nearby school to see if it could get the diploma to Remp in the next few days, but school officials told her they couldn’t speed up the process.

So Glaros talked to her own school board president and, on Friday morning, got Remp’s diploma printed. Fearing it wouldn’t reach Remp in time if she mailed it, she decided to make the 4.5-hour drive to Maryland herself, she said.

As Glaros stepped foot out of her car, Cappuccilli recounted, he told her, “You’re going to heaven, because this act puts you there.”

For Glaros, meeting the World War II veteran was like meeting a rockstar, she said. At first, it made her nervous.

“It was just an incredible honor to be able to give that to him,” she said. “When I was speaking with him, it was like we had been best friends forever.”

Remp told the crowd of family and friends by his bed that he was “really happy,” ABC 7 reported.

“You people just don’t know what it means to me,” Remp said, according to the outlet. “I’ll cherish this for the rest of my life.”

The next day, Saturday, Remp was speaking with pride about that diploma even as he began to fade, according to Marine veteran Julien Singh, commander of American Legion Post 247.

Glaros said she was glad she had the opportunity to give back to Remp. She said she tries to instill in her students the importance of being good to others.

“For me, it was a no-brainer,” she said. “It was just an act of kindness.”

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