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School history 1847-1997

  by Spencer Claypoole

    North Coventry High School 

     submitted by Helen Brower

           OJR class of 1956

Football programs

The Pottstown Mercury - 1950

WW II Vet receives diploma from OJR in 2002, 57 years after he would have graduated!                                                    Reading Eagle Newspaper


A high school football standout in those days, Richard J. Essick, 76, of St. Peters, had always wanted to follow in the footsteps of two older brothers who had joined the U.S. Navy, the now late Ralph and Russell Essick.

But first he planned to complete his high school education.

Essick, who together with Ralph and Russell lived with five other siblings and parents, the late Norman and Della Essick, in the Pottstown Landing section of North Coventry, planned to join the U.S. Navy Seabees after high school. But fate would see Essick in a Navy uniform before he ever wore a cap and gown.

The United States had joined in World War II, just a few months after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

“That put the juice in me,” he said of the infamous attack, the attack his brother Ralph had been fortunate to survive. “It made me mad, so there was the incentive,” he said. “I quit school and signed up.”

Finishing high school was out of the question now for Essick, then, just 17. He was called up to war just three months later, and Essick packed his school bag for the last time. In 1946, after 32 months in the Pacific theater and after participating in three invasions of Japanese held islands, Essick was discharged from the Navy and returned home to work at the former Bethlehem Steel Co. in Pottstown, where he stayed until 1952 when he felt duty call once again.

“Then there came the Korean War,” he said. “I didn’t have to go, but I volunteered.” This time Essick signed up with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Essick spent the next four years in the Marines, 15 months of which he fought in the Korean War. After that, he served as a drill sergeant training would-be young officers at Quantico Island.

In 1956, Essick was discharged from the Marines.

But the lure of military life was strong and in 1957 he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was shipped to England where he served as a sergeant in England.

It was during his time in Europe that Essick achieved another goal – he earned his GED (general equivalency diploma) the equivalent of a high school diploma awarded by the state after study and testing. It wasn’t the graduation he’d imagined back when he was just 17 – but it was something.

Something he could be proud of, along with his 12 years’ worth of service medals, including the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with three battle stars for Vela La Vela, the Admiralty Isles and Okinawa invasions, the Meritorious Unit Commendation Navy Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the Marine Good Conduct Medal, the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, the Air Force Longevity Medal, the Navy Expedition Medal with 3 stars for three invasions against enemy held fortifications, the Navy Occupation Medal for Okinawa, the National Defense Medal, the Korean War Service Medal and the United Nations Medal.

It was 1961 when Essick was discharged from the Air Force, after dedicating 12 years to the military services.

Once again, he came home, and returned to Bethlehem Steel where he worked until 1976, when the Pottstown plant closed.

Essick continued working at various steel fabrication plants, retiring in 1990 from Allied Tank in Collegeville, where he was a welder.

Throughout his life, Essick said he often thought about his one regret – never graduating, never getting the high school diploma he longed to earn.

Then fate stepped in again a few months ago, when Essick’s nephew, Robert Troxell of Exeter, learned about legislation passed last summer that allows Pennsylvania veterans of World War II to receive the high school diplomas they’d given up to serve their country.

Trying to keep it a surprise, Essick contacted state Sen. Jim Gerlach. Gerlach facilitated a special legislative commendation recognizing the veteran for his many patriotic sacrifices. Then came a letter of commendation from Gov. Schweiker. But the best part was still to come.

Troxell contacted the Owen J. Roberts School District and told them Essick’s story. The administration “grabbed onto the idea” of honoring Essick, Troxell said, with what he always wanted, his high school diploma, and , when the graduating Class of 2002 receiveds their diplomas, Essick got his, too.

In a special ceremony after the students received their diplomas at the graduation at Ursinus College, Essick was called to the stage by acting Owen J. Roberts High School Principal Elaine Eib. Eib placed a mortarboard on Essick’s head and a gown on his shoulders, and he was named an honorary member of the Class of 2002 and presented with a special diploma.

Someone in the district even found an original program from the 1945 North Coventry High School graduation ceremonies, when he would have received his diploma if not for the war, which Essick also received as a memento.

“It’s very hard to believe,” he said of his “graduation.” “I never thought this day would come.

“I never really talked about it, but it has always bothered me that I never got my diploma.”

Florentine said it is an honor overdue Essick as well as any other veteran in his situation.

“I think the meaningful thing is that in this year, in a time of such renewed patriotism and nationalism, to be able to do this makes it all the more significant, and I think it will be something special for the graduating Class of 2002 as well,” Florentine said, “It will give the graduating class a moment to pause and think about the significance of the contributions that so many people made in order for them to be able to enjoy the opportunities we have today”. 

Richard J. Essick

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