Above: Arthur Masterson with his high school diploma on Christmas 2023, 78 years after he left EGHS to join the Navy in WWII. Submitted photo
In 1945, Arthur Masterson left high school in his senior year to join the Navy
It was Thanksgiving evening and family members were looking through old papers when Elaine Vespia’s son-in-law Ben Frail noticed something on the discharge papers belonging to Elaine’s father, 96-year-old Arthur Masterson.
“My son-in-law noticed he left high school in April of his senior year,” said Vespia, referring to her father. “The discharge papers said he hadn’t finished high school.”
That was news to everyone. Arthur had never mentioned it.
Frail said he thought the East Greenwich School Department would be able to award a diploma, so Vespia reached out to Supt. Brian Ricca, who told her he would look into it.
“The week before Christmas, Supt. Ricca called me back and said they could do it.”
According to Ricca, granting the diploma was just “the right thing to do.” When he learned that Arthur left to serve in WWII, “my immediate thought was gratitude. My next thought was, how can we get this done?”
The family opted for a small private ceremony at home on Christmas, to include as many family members as possible. As it turned out, nearly all of Arthur’s family was there – his three children, Jimmy, Debra, and Elaine; four grandchildren; and four of his five great-grandchildren (with the only one not in attendance a great-grandson serving in the military).
Arthur’s wife, Fay – high school sweethearts, they were married in the old OLM Rectory and had their wedding reception on the rooftop of the Greenwich Hotel – died in 2018.
“A diploma after all these years,” Arthur exclaimed, after reading the certificate. Included was a photo of him from grammar school, along with his permanent student record and a record of his smallpox vaccine. Looking at the photo, he said, “That me?”
Family members assured him it was.
“You sure?” he said, to much laughter.
“He never told us why he didn’t graduate,” said Vespia. “Back then, they didn’t think about those things.”
Entering the Navy near the end of the war, Arthur served stateside for 11 months before being discharged. He was later drafted for the Korean War and served two more years, again stateside.
In East Greenwich, he worked for a while at the East Greenwich Diary, then got a job working for the U.S. Postal Service in East Greenwich (he worked in both the old Post Office on Main Street and then the “new” – now gone – post office on First Avenue).
Elaine said she was very glad her father was able to get his diploma at long last. In addition to being thankful to her son-in-law, she marveled at what the school department was able to uncover.
“I couldn’t believe that they not only had paperwork from 1945 but were able to find it. They will never know how much it meant to myself, my dad and my family,” she said, adding, “Thank you very much to the East Greenwich School Committee, Dr. Ricca, and his staff for helping me give a special gift to my dad.”
“There are too many times when people approach me with questions that I have to answer ‘no’ to,” said Ricca. “This was the right thing to do for Mr. Masterson and his family. I’m proud that we were able to get this done!”
The irony of receiving a diploma so very many years later was not lost on Arthur, who remains sharp, if a tad hard of hearing.
On Christmas, after Elaine told her dad he was an official EGHS graduate, he looked up and, wearing a wry smile, said, “Oh boy!”