93-year-old World War II Bronze Star recipient to receive honorary degree from Regis University at special commencement ceremony, Sunday, Dec. 21

December 19, 2014

On Sunday, Dec. 21, former Regis student Sidney Shafner, 93, will receive an honorary degree awarded by Father John P. Fitzgibbons, S.J., at a special commencement ceremony on Sunday (Clarke Hall, 3333 Regis Blvd., Entrance 1, 11 a.m.).

Shafner attended Regis in 1943 as part of an elite group of American men selected for the Army Specialized Training Corps (ASTP) because of their exceptional intelligence. Beyond classroom and lab work, the students also had to put in hours of military instruction and physical training. That was until classes were cut short in March 1944 when the military decided it needed the nation’s brightest minds to help with World War II efforts, and all 162 students were deployed to Europe.

His unit, the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division, is one of two units credited with liberating the German concentration camp in Dachau in April 1945. It was during the liberation when Shafner met two young boys alongside the road wearing prisoner uniforms. The boys’ families had been killed at Auschwitz but the boys were strong and sent to Dachau to work as laborers. Upon liberation, they didn’t have family or a home. Shafner and the members of the 42nd offered the boys food, clothing and shelter. They also gave them jobs as cooks. The boys remained with the 42nd until the war ended.

Shafner never completed his engineering degree at Regis but recalls the time he spent on the Northwest Denver Campus as a highlight of his life. It was here the Philadelphia native saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. It was where he met his wife of 68 years, Esther. And it was where Shafner, who is Jewish, learned about the Jesuit tradition and about such values as cura personalis and asking the question “How ought we to live?”

Regis was a landing and a launching point for Shafner’s life. The war forced many difficult situations upon Shafner and his fellow soldiers, but they chose to care for two lonely, lost boys abandoned through death and destruction. He selflessly served others at great personal risk, earning two Bronze Stars and countless other medals of bravery along the way. He pursued justice and embraced those who had nothing left. Shafner has stayed in touch with the man he helped liberate and care for, emailing and speaking with him every few weeks since the war ended.

When asked what kind of student he was at Regis, Shafner said, “I was an average student who had to study all the time – physics, calculus, and chemistry. I didn’t have time to sneak off with my classmates to Lakeside or Elitch’s to connect with the young women from Loretto Heights or Colorado Women’s College.”

“Sidney deserves this degree – he’s anything but average” said Nathan Matlock, Associate Director, Center for the Study of War Experience. Shafner’s story and others’ who served are shared in Regis’ weekly series, directed by the Center for the Study of War Experience, beginning Jan. 22, 2015. Shafner is donating a collection of letters and documenting his story for inclusion in the center’s archive.