Of the Baker City Herald

Joe Frericks earned his high school diploma 60 years late by the usual standards, but for him the award arrived right on time.

Frericks was 16 when left school in Baker City to enlist in the military. He fought in and survived two of World War II's bloodiest battles Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

But he never returned to the classroom.

Frericks was 79 when he died Monday at his home.

But with him there in his last moments was that diploma, the document he sacrificed more than six decades ago so he could fight for freedom.

Frericks received his honorary diploma in May, during Baker High School's annual awards program.

In an interview at the time, Frericks said he neither sought nor ever expected to be honored in that way.

Certainly he did not anticipate he would join his granddaughter, Amy Cloudt, as a member of the Class of 2002.

andquot;I just lost track of my years,andquot; Frericks said in May.

So, apparently, did the Oregon National Guard recruiters who allowed Frericks to enlist in 1940 even though he was two years shy of the minimum age of 18.

It was a decision that cost Frericks his final year and a half at St. Francis Academy in Baker City.

And it almost cost him his life.

Once a bomb dropped by a German plane landed uncomfortably close to the foxhole where Frericks was huddled.

But the only shrapnel that struck him was dirt rather than steel.

Another day Frericks watched tracer bullets from a German machine gun fell a fellow soldier standing just a few feet away.

Frericks was untouched.

After the war Frericks returned to Baker County, where his first civilian job was hauling rock to spread on logging roads near Bates.

Later he moved to Southern California, where he used money from the G.I. Bill to study car body repair.

Frericks hated the bustle of Los Angeles, though, and he returned to Baker City after two years.

He worked at Baker Garage for 14 years and then, in 1961, opened his own shop.

Frericks was 68 when he retired in 1991.

He and his wife, Lena, raised three daughters.

Lena, his wife of more than 52 years, died in November too soon for her husband, but not too late to watch as he finally earned the reward he so selflessly denied himself to serve his country all those years before.