World War II vet gets belated diploma from Derry Area High School |
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Jeff Himler

Pete and Kace Sabedra walked together across the Derry Area Middle School stage Wednesday.

Kace, who will graduate from the district’s high school May 31, received the World Language Honor Society award for Spanish at the school’s annual awards ceremony.

His grandfather, Pete, 91, received the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award — accepting his high school diploma nearly eight decades after leaving school to help support his family.

“It’s something,” Pete said about getting his diploma to supplement the GED he earned years ago.

“It’s a cool experience,” said Kace, who plans to continue his 104-win wrestling career at Thiel College as he pursues a degree in one of the forensic disciplines. “It means a lot, considering we’re graduating at the same time almost.”

Pete Sabedra, a lifelong resident of the Derry Township village of Torrance, was attending eighth grade at the former Derry Township High School in 1940 when his father, Joseph, died of pneumonia at age 33.

Pete and his older brother, John, left school early to follow the example of their late father. They became railroad workers so they could help their mother support the family — including two younger brothers.

For a year and a half, the brothers labored alongside men twice their size.

They split us up, and I was in the tie gang,” said Pete.

“The weight of the wheelbarrows loaded with the ballast and the moving of railroad ties would cause their hands to be split wide open every day. Their mother would bandage them up every night, and the next day the same work would need to be done again,” said Pete’s daughter-in-law, Mollie Sabedra, who requested that he receive the honorary high school diploma.

“I simply felt he deserved to have it,” she said.

Awarding belated honorary diplomas is something Derry Area has done “several times,” Principal Casey Long said. “This is a worthwhile opportunity to honor a life of service and sacrifice.”

With the country’s entry into World War II, the Sabedra brothers joined the military and dutifully sent their pay home. Pete, shy of 18, had to lie about his age to enlist.

The brothers were sent to Germany, where Pete served in the infantry and with the military police. Both returned home safely.

Pete returned to work for the railroad as a machine operator before shifting to the staff at Torrance State Hospital, working as a patient aide before retiring in 1985, with 30 years of service.

For a while, he said, “I was working two jobs. I was working on the railroad and at the hospital.”

Pete Sabedra raised four children with his late wife, Patricia, and is now affectionately watching the growth of eight grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.

“He’s a family man who went to see his mother every day until she passed,” Mollie said.

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