98-Year-Old Iowa Veteran Fulfills Dream of Graduating High School

by Matthew Memrick

An Iowa native and World War II veteran’s 80-year-old dream of becoming a high school graduate is now a reality.

Donald Huisenga, born in Sac County and attended Auburn High School (now East Sac County High), lives in San Angelo, Texas. Officials drafted the man before he could receive his diploma.

“I never graduated from high school,” Huisenga told KTXS. “I was taken in the service in 1943.”

KCCI reported the 98-year-old man left high school in 1943, fought in the D-Day invasion, and spent six months as a prisoner of war.

World War II Veteran Part of Normany Invasion

According to the San Antonio Standard-Times, Don Huisenga went to Des Moines for basic training before going to U.S. Army Special Forces training at a base in Florida.

Huisenga told KTXS that he parachuted into Normandy during that D-Day event on June 6, 1944. Soon after, he got wounded during the battle while doing reconnaissance work.

“I got blown back 30 feet and was picked up by two polish boys,” Huisenga told KTXS. “They picked me up, and all I had on me was a shredded shirt and shorts.”

While recovering during a two-week hospital stay, the man said Germans captured him, taking him to a prison camp by train. 

Huisenga said he weighed 175 pounds before going to war. While there, he was captured and sent to a prison camp. As a prisoner, “we didn’t have anything to eat, so if you stayed, you starved to death.”

The newspaper reported that he survived eight months before his release. He left prison camp 75 pounds lighter.

After a short time, Huisenga told KTXS the Allied soldiers found and freed him.

World War II Veteran Comes Home, Moves to Texas

Don Huisenga eventually found a new home in Texas with his wife. After all this time and a battle with COVID-19, he wanted that high school diploma in his hand.

In November, Huisenga contacted a social worker named Tess Gooding about hearing aids. Gooding worked at the San Antonio Veteran Affairs Clinic.

During her conversation, the medical social worker heard about Huisenga’s time as a prisoner of war before the man mentioned his diploma desire. 

Gooding, a former Iowa native herself, contacted East Sac County (ESC) School District principal Kevin Litterer to see if the man could help Huisenga achieve his dream of graduating.

Huisenga’s old high school, Auburn, dissolved and became East Sac County High School.

When contacted about the man’s longtime regret, Litterer said he “knew right away that we had to make this happen.”

Litterer made the airplane trip to Texas to present Huisenga with his official 1943 Auburn High School diploma. Huisenga’s family and friends attended the event.  

“I always hoped that I would get a diploma,” said Huisenga. “I couldn’t be any more pleased.”