Glenn Holtz worked his way up to become vice president and cashier of a bank in the 1970s, but it bothered him that he didn’t have a high school diploma.
“When I told people where I worked, they would say, ‘Where did you graduate?’ And I’d say, ‘I didn’t,’” he said. “It made me feel inferior, but I was always honest. My mom used to say, ‘You tell one lie and swear by it with another one.’”
Holtz, 93, of Belleville, will finally get his pomp and circumstance Wednesday night. District 201 is giving him an honorary high school diploma during the Belleville West commencement.
The district is basing its action on a state law that allows high schools to give diplomas to people who dropped out to serve in the Korean War, World War II or the Vietnam War.
“It’s an honor for us to be able to recognize (Holtz),” said Superintendent Jeff Dosier. “We’ll have a seat for him with the students, and a cap and gown. We’ll see if he wants to wear it.”
Holtz quit school to help support his family during the Great Depression, but he later served in the U.S. Army during World War II, earning a silver star and two bronze stars for heroism.
“He was highly decorated, but he doesn’t brag about it,” said the Rev. Edward Weston, senior pastor at Union United Methodist Church in Belleville, where Holtz has been a member for 84 years.
Holtz will attend the commencement with his daughter, Lennis Bange, and her husband, Bruce, of Oakville, Mo., in South St. Louis County.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Bange, 66, a retired AT&T employee. “He got so many awards (from the military), and the silver star. ... They don’t just give that out to anybody.”
Holtz received the silver star in 1945 on Luzon, The Philippines, after trying to rescue two soldiers in a Japanese attack. One of the men, a close friend, died.
“Private First Class Holtz, with utter disregard for his own life, voluntarily left a concealed position and, under intense enemy machine gun fire, crawled 15 yards to where the two wounded men had fallen,” according to the commendation.
Holtz was born in Coulterville. His family moved to Belleville when he was 10. His father lost his coal-mining job, so his mother went to work in a pants factory.
“Things got tough,” Holtz said. “There wasn’t any money hanging around. It was the Great Depression, so it was hard. I started selling papers on the square. I did that because it helped with my little expenses, like my lunch at school.”
Holtz later dropped out and worked at the old Washington and Lincoln theaters, earning $5.25 a week. Then he got a job at the Scott Air Force Base exchange.
Holtz was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1942. He trained in Washington and California before serving in Hawaii, New Guinea, The Philippines and Japan. The list is scribbled in front of a small Bible he carried in his duffle bag.
“When I went overseas, I weighed 175 pounds,” Holtz said. “The only food we had over there was Australian Lend-Lease, so I went down to 121 pounds. ... And I had to take Atabrine pills for malaria, one for breakfast and one for supper. But I still got malaria.”
After the war ended in 1945, Holtz returned to his job at Scott. He married Dorothy Rittmeyer, a “pretty blonde” who had written him overseas.
Dorothy reared Lennis and her brother, Randy, now deceased. Holtz became a supervisor of military exchanges before going to an interview at First National Bank in Belleville “dressed to kill.” The board chairman hired him to manage its Scott branch.
“I said, ‘I don’t know anything about being a bank manager,’” Holtz said. “I honestly told him that. I never pull a punch. And he said, ‘That’s OK. You’ll learn.’”
Holtz completed an Illinois Bankers Association program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and climbed the First National ladder before retiring in 1984. His wife died 12 years ago.
Holtz still drives and lives independently. He rarely misses church services at Union United, where he always sits in the balcony. It was the pastor who contacted District 201 to suggest the honorary diploma.
“(Dad has) always been a behind-the-scenes person who didn’t really need accolades,” Bange said. “He’s a humble guy, but deep down, I think he’s tickled pink.”
Ever the patriot, Holtz flies an American flag from his front porch and displays his World War II memorabilia in a spare bedroom. The bed is covered with a red-white-and-blue quilt.
“I don’t like to be called a ‘hero,’” Holtz said. “I just like to be called, ‘A guy who did his best.’ ... I’ve had cancer three times (lung, prostate and skin), I’ve had two heart attacks, and I’m still living. So somebody’s helping me out.”