CHATHAM — In recognition of a local veteran’s service during World War II and of the knowledge and experience he gained while in the service, the Chatham Central School District Board of Education posthumously awarded William Henry Silliman with a local high school diploma. The Board took this action at the request of Mr. Silliman’s granddaughter, Kim Czyzewski, who along with other members of Mr. Silliman’s family attended the Board’s June 22 meeting to accept the diploma on his behalf. As part of the recognition, Ms. Czyzewski provided the following remarks about Mr. Silliman’s service, his life here in the Chatham area, and why his receiving a diploma was important.
“My Grandfather, William Henry Silliman, was born on December 18, 1911 in Old Chatham, the 4th child of Lawrence and Julia Silliman. He attended school in a one room schoolhouse at Riders Mills in Old Chatham until he was 15 years old and had never earned a school diploma. It is not clear why he did not finish school although I can speculate it was because his father had died when he was 9 years old leaving his mother, a young widow with 5 children. In the 1930 census, he was found to be living with his mother, sister and brother-in-law on Locust street in Chatham. He was 19…. They may have had to relocate due to financial difficulties.
“My Grandfather signed up in the Army when the United States entered World War II. He was a sergeant in the US Army Transportation Corps, 2nd MRS, Railway Grand Division, 741st Railway Operating Battalion. He worked on the railroad transporting supplies to Allied troops in Europe. It was a dangerous job as the German Axis power was successful at bombing rail cars and locomotives throughout Germany and Belgium, killing many soldiers on the rail lines.
“Before he joined the Army, he married his first wife who passed away only a year after they were married in 1942. His Mother passed away two years later in 1944. It seems like he could not catch a break. Luckily, after the war, he met my Grandmother who was a friend of his sister Lydia. Kitty and Henry married and raised one child together and enjoyed spending time with their beautiful 5 grandchildren. They lived on Woodbridge Avenue here in Chatham for about 50 years.
“In closing, I want everyone to know that my Grandfather held education in a very high regard. He was interested in our local history in the Chatham area and, as a member of the Chatham American Legion Post 42, he made it possible for Chatham High graduates to receive scholarships through the Legion organization. When we were kids going to school here at Chatham, he always would remind us how important it is to do well in school and finish because he did not have that opportunity.
“Today, maybe he is looking down from above and is pleased with his long over-due diploma.”
Mr. Silliman passed away in 2000 at the age of 88.
New York veterans, living or deceased, who left high school without graduating are eligible to earn high school diplomas under Section 305 of New York’s Education Law, known as “Operation Recognition.”