Proud war veteran earns diploma
BERRYVILLE ---- I.L. Rowe Jr., 77, received his diploma from Berryville High School on Christmas Day, 57 years after he was supposed to graduate as a member of the Class of 1946.
"Junior" Rowe said the document is one of his proudest accomplishments, among many he has earned over the years.
"This is real important to me. It made me cry," he said. "My kids did this for me, and it is something I always wanted but never attained."
When Rowe was a sophomore during World War II, the worldwide threat posed by Japanese forces in the Pacific gave Rowe great concern, and he decided, though it wasn't required, to leave school at the age of 17 to serve his country in the military.
The old veteran is a soft-spoken man with the weathered face and reluctant smile of a man who has seen a lot.
"I felt it was something I had to do," he said. "I didn't have to volunteer, I just wanted to."
Others volunteered at that point in the war, but not many from around here, and Rowe was determined to go, despite some discouragement from his family.
Though the war in Europe was ending, in 1945, when Rowe joined the U.S. Navy, there was fear throughout the world that an invasion of mainland Japan was the only thing that would end the war in the Pacific.
An invasion of the Japanese homeland was considered a last resort by President Harry Truman and U.S. military leaders, as the Japanese were believed to be prepared to use soldiers, civilians and even children in a hand-to-hand, desperate fight to defend Japan.
When Rowe reached the Marshall Islands in the Pacific as a First Class Seaman aboard the Navy destroyer USS Meade, no one was sure what was to come.
"As far as we knew, we were preparing to go into a slaughter," Rowe said. "We didn't know, but we were patrolling in the Marshall Islands and the Philippines and there was still suicide dive bombers. ... We would bypass islands where we knew there were Japanese, but we had bigger things to get ready for."
Rowe figured he and his forces would be a major part of the invasion of Japan. He was stationed aboard the USS Meade, and also on the USS Meredith, both destroyer ships that would surely be a part of an initial bombardment of Japan, acting as shields for the battleships and aircraft carriers.
It was the top secret mission of the legendary bomber Enola Gay, and Truman's deadly secret ---- the atomic bomb ---- that prevented the estimated one million U.S. casualties expected in an invasion of Japan.
Hiroshima was devastated Aug. 6, 1945, by the Enola Gay, and three days later on Aug. 9, a plutonium bomb was released over Nagasaki.
Three weeks later, the Japanese offered an unconditional surrender, but the war wasn't over yet for Junior Rowe.
Though he had experienced six months of war at sea in the South Pacific, Rowe continued on missions patrolling the Philippines, and on a rescue mission in Indo-China, now known as Vietnam.
His older brother Bill was also there, flying as a navigator, and he too would have been integral in an invasion of Japan.
Junior Rowe made it home safely after the war, and became a lead lineman for Carroll Electric, where he worked for 41 years before retiring.
He lost his wife, Bethine, in 2002, but he has a huge family that is a foundation of support for him.
Before Christmas, his children and grandchildren heard about a new program where Berryville High School would grant diplomas to those who had to leave during war.
His children gave him the diploma for Christmas, and he said it is a gift he will never forget.
His children are Jim Rowe, Tom Rowe, Dina Henderson and Marilyn Hicks. He has 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, a family that stands out as one of few with four generations living in Berryville.
"All I lacked to graduate was two credits in English," said Rowe, at his volunteer post at St. John's Hospital-Berryville, where he has been a regular auxiliary volunteer.
Although Rowe thought of correspondence courses and such to get his diploma, he never got around to doing it, "because I couldn't miss a day's pay," he said.
"I also wasn't sure I'd pass," Rowe said with a smile.
But his children came through for Christmas, and besides being an honored vet, father and grandfather, he's now a proud graduate of the Berryville High School Class of 1946.