Six-and-a-half decades after what would have been his final year of high school, a local Korean War veteran received his diploma.
The Effingham County Board of Education presented a Rincon High School diploma to Eathen “Deke” Davis, 81, whose Marine Corps Reserve unit was activated in 1950 as he was set to begin his senior year at RHS. He had just turned 17 years old at the time.
“I’ve looked forward to this for years,” Davis said. “I made a mistake when I came out of the Marine Corps. I could’ve gone back to school.”
Instead, Davis took a job at the Dixie Crystals sugar refinery in Port Wentworth, where he worked for 41 years. Also, “I fell in love,” he said, with his wife of 61 years, Lois.
Lois accompanied him to the diploma presentation. With a chuckle, she recalled conversations she had with her husband about finishing high school after he returned home from serving in Korea.
“He would say, ‘I’m not going back with those children,’” she said. “He wasn’t going back to school with the ‘children.’ He always wanted to, but he would not go back.”
The years continued to pass, but then Davis attended a local event where state Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah was one of the guest speakers. Davis approached Stephens afterward.
“I thought maybe he can help me,” Davis said. “He did.”
Stephens sent a letter to the Effingham County School System asking if Davis could be awarded a high school diploma. School officials researched Davis and agreed he should be recognized.
“He never received his high school diploma because he went to war,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse.
“They took 182 of us at one time out of Chatham County and Effingham,” Davis said of his Reserve unit being mobilized for the Korean War.
School officials located a copy of an old Rincon High diploma and replicated it to give to Davis. The cherished piece of paper states Davis “completed in a satisfactory manner the regular course of study” and is entitled to receive the diploma.
The diploma is dated May 1951, when Davis would have graduated from high school.
“My favorite part of the year, every year, is always graduation,” Shearouse said. “This is probably the first time I’ve handed out a diploma to someone a little older than 17 or 18 years of age. Mr. Davis, we’re so proud of you.”
Along with thanking Stephens, Davis said, “I appreciate all the effort that the county of Effingham has put out for me to have this.”
In researching Davis, the school district found he lived in Chatham County while he attended Rincon High School. In those days, Shearouse said, students didn’t have to live in the same county where they attended school.
Davis left Savannah High to enroll at RHS. He was one of several students from the Garden City and Port Wentworth areas to attend high school in Rincon, he said.
“It was about four automobiles (of students) that traveled every day to get an education,” Davis said. “I got more education in one year (in Rincon) than I did in Chatham County.”
Asked if he will have his high school diploma framed, Davis emphatically said, “Yes, sir.” He then jokingly held the diploma to his chest.
“I think I’ll wear it like that,” he said.