DEL CITY — Frances Bickell didn't get his high school diploma, but he got an education during World War II.
While many of his classmates were graduating from Yale High School, Bickell, now 88, was marching into Germany with Patton's 3rd Army and treating survivors from one of the first liberated concentration camps in the Buchenwald complex.
On Saturday, Yale High School will give Bickell the diploma he passed up 70 years ago to serve his country.
“I missed that diploma a lot,” Bickell said. “I could have gone a lot further after the war if I'd had a diploma.”
Bickell dropped out of school and was drafted by the U.S. Army. He trained as a combat medic and sailed to France on the Queen Mary.
“When we got off the ship in France, we could see the harbor had been bombed out, and there were sunken ships all over,” Bickell said.
He arrived on the front lines just as the Battle of the Bulge got under way in the winter of 1944. Bickell was a front line medic and litter bearer. He and his buddies used to joke that the red and white crosses marking them as medics just served as a bull's eye for the enemy.
As the Allies beat back the German offensive in the Ardennes and marched into Germany, Bickell was confronted with the scenes that would haunt his memory for the rest of his life.
He was assigned to help treat the survivors of a concentration camp that had been liberated. He saw mass graves. As the Allies closed in, the Nazi officers in charge of the camp lined up many of the prisoners at the top of a trench and shot them to death, setting their bodies on fire.
“The smell in that place was horrible,” Bickell said. “You could smell burnt flesh and feces. I never want to see anything like that again.”