Veteran waits over 50 years to receive diploma
April 14, 2006
Veteran Steve Dubas displays his high school diploma he received in a ceremony this past Veteran’s Day at Fullerton High School. The Marine in the photo on the shelf is the couple’s grandson, Matthew Dubas, son of Ed and Kendra Dubas of Lincoln. Hanging on the shelf is Steve’s military uniform. By Barbara Ann Dush
Youth vanishes quickly in war.
Within a whisper of their 18th birthday, callow teenagers turned World War II soldiers were shipped overseas into combat that required them to do the most vulgar thing human beings can do to one another.
For Steve Dubas, the battlegrounds in Europe were a far cry from the farm life he was accustomed to in the North Star area west of Fullerton, Neb. The third oldest of 13 children, he attended North Star and Sunflower country schools. After graduating from the eighth grade, Steve quietly slipped back into the routine of helping on the farm for two years before beginning his freshman year at Fullerton High School where algebra and English reigned as his favorite subjects.
After completing the ninth grade, Steve did what so many of the young men did in 1943. Instead of finishing his high school education, he joined the U.S. Army to help win the war.
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“I just felt it was the right thing to do,” he reflected. “You could sign up without your parents consent. I was still 17 when I signed up, so I would have been drafted. I turned 18 the 21st of July and on the 26th of July I was inducted.”
Steve was sent to Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., on a troop train for induction and was excited at the prospect of taking his basic training in California, but the excitement soon dampened.
“I was so happy I was going to have basic in California, but instead, they left one car load of guys there and took us on to Texas.”
It was during this time Steve decided to join the United States paratroopers. “I wanted to do something different,” he said of his decision.
The young soldier was sent directly to parachute school at Ft. Benning, Ga. The training was devoted to the skills all soldiers need. Parachute trainees were pushed physically and mentally to instill in them the confidence and camaraderie they would need when things got rough.
Yet Steve recalls his first jump as a positive experience: “You don’t have a sensation of falling; you feel like you’re floating. It feels peaceful.” But that feeling wouldn’t last long.
After a ten day furlough, he boarded a troop train to Ft. Mead, Md., where he was shipped by convoy to Europe as an enlisted replacement to take part in Operation VARSITY. Before he could even set foot on foreign soil, the experience of war would begin to fix itself in his mind.
“On our way to Europe, the ship that was alongside our convoy was an oil tanker,” he remembers. “It blew one of its units that pulled it and went sideways, broadsiding the troop ship ahead of us. It killed some of the troops; I’m not sure how many.”
Soon after, Steve, along with fellow paratroopers from the 460th Paratroop Field Artillery Battalion of the 517th Combat Unit, were “dumped off” at a little town in France. “Shortly afterwards, they put us in planes to jump over the Rhine.”
Operation VARSITY began on March 24, 1945. It was the last phase of the war, and parachutist forces played a vital part in the crossing of the River Rhine and the invasion of Germany. But that recognition didn’t make the mission any less comfortable for the paratroopers approaching the drop zone. During a combat jump, the men would likely be under enemy fire, making the descent to earth feel like an eternity.
On the ground, a lot of troopers had trouble unfastening the leg straps of the harness, or were caught in the trees or high tension wires, leaving them swinging in plain view of the enemy.
“We were dumped at low altitude and you couldn’t guide your chute where you wanted. Some of the guys landed in trees and were hanging targets for the Germans.
“The first thing you did was regroup with your outfit. I was in the radio section with the field artillery, so we were ahead of the field artillery with infantry to send back missions.”
Steve poses for a picture in his military uniform at the family farm while home on furlough.
In the midst of enemy territory with German fire threatening each move forward and the thought of death a constant companion, hearts raced as the paratroopers struggled out of the harness, catching their breath just long enough to find the artillery in their gear and regroup.
Steve fought in constant conflict for six days, but it became a life time of memories he wouldn’t care to dig into.
“We got drawn back and signed to the 13th Airborne because they wanted some combat teams who had experience to jump again. I jumped nine times, but that was basic training and combat. I didn’t get any advance training because I was sent over as a replacement.”
But having to jump again in combat never developed, and no one seemed to mind. “Patton and his tanks came in and finally relived us,” Steve explained.
The 460th Battalion was then sent to France in early August. “We thought we were being sent to CBI – Japan and that area – which was half way around the world from where we were. They were going to send us to Italy, but instead they sent us to the United States and we got a 30-day recuperation furlough. Meantime, the war was over and I didn’t have to go back overseas.
“That was a blessing,” he still remarks with relief.
After 29 months in military service, Steve was thrilled at the thought of being discharged and returning home. However, his commanding officer wanted to convince him differently.
“The day I was being discharged, our battalion commander called me in and wanted to know if I would re-enlist.
“If I knew what I know now, I probably would have made a career of it and had a good retirement,” he adds. “But at the time he called me in, all I wanted to do was get out.
“Bad times are fresh in your mind.”
So he stayed with his decision to return home to Nebraska.
Several years after his discharge, Steve married and began raising a family. He and his wife, Mildred, farmed in Nance County and Wolbach area and had seven children. The couple are now retired and live in Fullerton. Their family has expanded to 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Steve is a lifetime member of the American Legion Post No. 151 in Fullerton and the VFW Post No. 4832 in Clarks. Recently he read about Operation Recognition III, a joint program honoring World War II and Korean veterans. Last year, nearly 450 veterans received high school diplomas in ceremonies across Nebraska.
He inquired about receiving his diploma at the local veteran’s office. Finally, on November 12, 2001, in a ceremony held on Veterans Day at the Fullerton High School gym, family and friends watched in pride as he was awarded a long overdue honor: his signed high school diploma.
As Steve addressed the audience following the presentation, his closing statement made clear what every wartime veteran has learned the hard way … “Freedom is not free.”