When most his age were graduating high school, Marv Younger was fighting for his life to serve his country.
The 89-year-old Marine Corps sergeant who grew up picking cotton in Stuttgart, Arkansas, entered the service in 1948 as a 17-year-old, dropping out of school to do so.
He fought on the front lines in some of the most dangerous battles during the Korean War in the Inchon Landing, North Korean Aggression, Communist China Aggression campaigns and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a grueling 17-day campaign in freezing temperatures.
Because of the heavy casualties, the survivors were pegged as the “Chosin Few.”
He’s not one to seek praise or complain; it was the right thing to do, and the real heroes are those that never came home.
There is one thing that always nagged at him though.
“It always bothered him that he dropped out of school,” daughter-in-law Marion Younger said.
Recently, he asked if an aid could help him earn his GED, but Marion and husband Andy had a better idea.
After speaking with their pastor at First Baptist Church, Rachel Cocar, who’s on the Dixon School Board, they reached out to the School District to see if he’d be eligible for an honorary degree. And of course he was.
According to district policy:
“The District will award a diploma to a service member who was killed in action while performing active military duty with the U.S. Armed Forces or an honorably discharged veteran of World War II, the Korean Conflict, or the Vietnam Conflict, provided that he or she (1) resided within an area currently within the District at the time he or she left high school, (2) left high school before graduating in order to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, and (3) has not received a high school diploma.”
It’s not often that the district has requests from veterans for an honorary diploma, and it was even more gratifying in Marv’s case after reading his life story, which daughter Connie Mathes wrote in 2005 and Marion sent to Superintendent Margo Empen.
“To have endured so much and provided such love is truly inspiring,” Empen said.
That led to a jovial and teary ceremony Wednesday at the School Board meeting, where DHS Principal Mike Grady handed over the piece of paper that meant so much to Marv.
“I’d like to thank all of you and I love you all,” Marv said dressed in full uniform after receiving a standing ovation.
He came home to the area after the war, married his wife Darlene and had six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He owned K’s Korners for about 30 years before turning it over to his son Andy.
It wasn’t the first time in recent years that Marv received accolades long overdue. He received many honors during his service, but the medals were either unavailable or discontinued at the time.
In 2018, those honors — four bronze stars and eight medals — finally found their way to him after more than half a century. His family surprised him during a ceremony at K’s filled with dozens of family and friends.
He was also given an American flag flown at the U.S. Capitol in his honor as well as letters of commendation from legislators including U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin as well as U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.
Cocar said it was a blessing to be able to celebrate and thank Marv, and board President Linda Wegner said it was a shine of good news that everybody could appreciate during these times.
“We needed that,” she said.
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