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WWII veteran earns associate degree

November 8, 2010 12:36 am


Frank Kuhn Jr., 93, of Spotsylvania is a World War II veteran who recently received an associate degree from University of Maryland University College. lo1108kuhn2.jpg

Shawn Woodson (left) and his friend Frank Kuhn Jr. look over a drawing that shows a bridge Kuhn helped build in Germany during World War II.


Frank Kuhn Jr. has had his share of accomplishments over 93 years, not the least of which was surviving the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.

His latest achievement took awhile, but it's one that few of his peers can match. In August, he received an Associate of Arts degree from University of Maryland University College.

"I'm proud of that," said Kuhn, a decorated veteran who lives with friends in Spotsylvania County.

The degree capped an educational journey that took more than 60 years to complete.

Kuhn, who still drives but is in failing health, took many college classes during a 20-year Army career.

It was not enough for the degree he wanted, in military science. But he thought he had accumulated more than enough credits for an associate degree, so a few months ago he contacted UMUC.

"I requested and received from the Army all of my papers and had all these credits. I figured, 'What the hell, why throw them away?' "

UMUC spokesman Chip Cassano said it's not uncommon for a handful of senior citizens to be among the graduates receiving degrees at commencement, but he wasn't aware of any as old as Kuhn.

"This is an unusual case. Our military advising team had worked with him directly, and when they did the math, he qualified" for the belated sheepskin.

Of about 90,000 students taking UMUC classes each year, Cassano said, upwards of 50,000 are either active-duty military, retired, in the Reserves, or dependents.

Kuhn had few educational opportunities early on. The son of Polish immigrants in Philadelphia, he quit school after eighth grade. At 21 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal back-to-work program.

Kuhn worked with the corps in Flagstaff, Ariz., then in Norton, Va.

He returned to Philadelphia in 1940, joined the Pennsylvania National Guard and was assigned to the 103rd Combat Engineer Regiment.

His unit was activated in 1942; he built barracks in Pennsylvania for troops headed overseas.

Despite his lack of schooling, the company commander saw potential in the young private.

"He asked me if I wanted to go to [Officer Candidate School]. I was one of two. They pushed me through because they needed second lieutenants. I just barely made it," Kuhn said. That was his first stint at Fort Belvoir.

By 1943, Kuhn was on a Liberty Ship bound for England. He claims he was the first man on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The 237th Combat Engineer Battalion, he says, was sent to the beach earlier than planned.

Kuhn made it through five major campaigns in Europe, then was sent back home to Fort Belvoir.

He returned to Germany in 1947 for a three-year tour, and began taking college classes.

"I had two years of college credit before they discovered I had not finished high school," he recalled. He spent a year getting an equivalency degree.

Kuhn returned to Fort Belvoir, then served in Korea in 1952 and 1953.

After Korea he was back at Fort Belvoir, working as an information officer and administrator of the Army Education Center.

"The University of Maryland was one of two colleges we sponsored at Fort Belvoir," Kuhn said. His plan was to earn a degree in military science, but that wasn't to be.

He retired as a major in 1961, putting his education on hold.

Kuhn and his wife, Alice, a school counselor, lived in Northern Virginia for a few years, then moved to Alice's mother's place in Spotsylvania, where they spent the next 54 years.

Alice died in 2001.

Kuhn, who was wounded in World War II in Aachen, Germany, is founder of the Purple Heart Trail, a system of memorials to Purple Heart recipients on roads, highways, bridges and other sites.

Kuhn says his degree was worth waiting for.

With another Veterans Day on the horizon and another birthday under his belt, "I think I'm pretty darn lucky to come to this," he said.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

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