The United States was embroiled in World War II when a Spokane man left high school early to go fight for his country.
Now, nearly 70 years later, Spokane Public Schools is awarding Frank “Lucky” Materne his high school diploma. Materne, who died in October at the age of 86, left Rogers High School in fall 1943 to join the U.S. Navy.
His widow, Carol Materne, accepted the diploma on his behalf Wednesday at Spokane Public Schools’ board meeting.
“This is something that was important to him up until his 80s,” said district spokeswoman Erica Hallock. “That diploma is an important symbol.”
Materne was proud to serve, his widow said. He loved the military life and re-enlisted several times, but it always bothered him he never finished high school.
“That was one thing he did want,” she said. “So I was giving him one of his last wishes.”
She added, “It was important to me and to my kids, too.”
School Board President Bob Douthitt became very emotional as he presented the award Wednesday. His father-in-law also left school early to fight in World War II, he said, like many other young men did at the time.
“He was a rock-solid guy, just like your husband,” Douthitt told Carol Materne.
In 1944, Materne was commissioned onto the U.S.S. Menifee as a radioman. He served in World War II and the Korean War and later joined the Army National Guard, serving for a total of 23 years. In 1945 he was stationed in Hiroshima, where he pulled survivors out of wreckage after the U.S. bombed it.
He had contacted the district last year to try to get the diploma, but he died before it was arranged.
“I’m very proud to do it for him,” said Carol Materne as she sat in the modest apartment she shared with her husband before he died. “I’m just kind of grateful to get it done. It was something he wanted.”
She glanced upward and said, “And yes, I know you’re watching me right now.”
She fondly recalled how her husband loved to dance and play darts and pool. He was an ardent fan of old country music, singers like Sonny James and Tex Ritter, and kept his record albums carefully arranged in alphabetical order.
Materne was highly intelligent despite lacking a formal education, his widow said. After he left the military, he worked for Northeast Child Development Center and volunteered for more than 35 years with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 51. Among other duties, Materne, who enjoyed writing, served as the editor of the newspaper there, Hashmark.
On a small table near Carol Materne’s door sat a collection of relics to remind her of her husband: a flag and the casings from the three rifle volleys fired at his memorial, a cigarette case with an anchor on it and his VFW caps.
“I miss him,” she said. “I miss him every doggone day.”