Superintendent Laurie Hunter awarding David McPhillips his CCHS diploma, alongside his 1968 yearbook photo. Photo by Tom Lucey.

He was in Vietnam when his friends graduated high school. 55 years later, David McPhillips has his CCHS diploma

By Kelly Walters Correspondent
May 16, 2023

In 1968, while his classmates at Concord Carlisle High School donned their graduation caps and gowns, David McPhillips wore a different kind of uniform, as a newly enlisted member of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

David McPhillips in 1969 during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.

Fifty-five years later, the Concord School Committee awarded McPhillips a retroactive CCHS diploma, over five decades after the call to serve altered the course of his life.

School committees can award diplomas to veterans whose education was disrupted due to service in World War I and II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War, Superintendent Laurie Hunter explained. McPhillips served in an engineer battalion in Vietnam in 1969.

Hunter said the committee was “excited and honored” to award the diploma to McPhillips, who earned his GED while serving and went on to graduate from the University of Massachusetts in 1976.

“I felt like it was a very generous thing,” McPhillips said of the committee’s decision. “I’m 73 now so there’s no reason for me to get it, except I feel as if it’s some unfinished business.”

David McPhillips with the regional School Committee

At just 19 years old, McPhilips drew plans for bridges and building structures in the city of Da Nang. He described one project he undertook near a refugee camp in a 2005 interview:

“There was a whole village of people who had been moved from a different spot and the new spot was all flooded. So we had to find the high and low spots on the ground, get some heavy equipment out there, and actually cut across the road so we could build a bridge,” he said. He recalled feelings of loneliness and “culture shock” while serving, but said he was able to connect and laugh with the people who lived there, despite the language barrier.

David McPhillips in 1969 during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam.

McPhillips returned to Concord, where his deep family roots reach as far back as the 19th century, before settling in Pembroke with his wife. McPhillips’ son Brian, also a Marine, was tragically killed in combat in Iraq in 2003, just two days before the fall of Baghdad. 

Today, McPhillips works as a Veterans Service Officer at Pembroke’s town hall. Three CCHS class of 1968 alumni attended the committee meeting to honor McPhillips and his family.