WWII paratrooper to speak at August commencement

Posted on: 7/15/2014; Updated on: 7/15/2014
By Megan Sexton, 803-777-1421

Leif Erik Maseng, a World War II paratrooper who landed behind enemy lines to clear the way for the beach landings at Normandy on D-Day in 1944, will address graduates at the University of South Carolina's summer commencement exercises Aug. 9.

Maseng, a private first class in the U.S. Army who was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and longtime engineer with the Columbia firm Wilbur Smith and Associates, will receive an honorary degree of doctor of engineering.

Also receiving honorary degrees at the ceremony will be Jerome "Jerry" Odom, James L. Solomon and Henrie M. Treadwell. Odom, the former executive director of University Foundations, former provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Carolina, will receive an honorary degree of doctor of science. Solomon and Treadwell, two of the three students to desegregate the University of South Carolina in 1963, will also receive honorary degrees. Solomon, the retired commissioner of the S.C. Department of Social Services and current chairman of the Palmetto Development Group, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of public service. Treadwell, who has dedicated her life's work to improving access to primary health care, disease prevention and other needed services, will receive the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters.

The university expects to award more than 1,400 degrees for baccalaureate, master's and professional degree recipients from all eight campuses at 10:30 a.m. in the Colonial Life Arena. The hooding ceremony for doctoral candidates will be at 8:30 a.m. in the Koger Center for the Arts. Thomas Chandler, dean of the Arnold School of Public Health, will be the speaker.

Maseng was born in Chicago and was studying civil engineering at the University of Illinois when his education was interrupted by World War II. At 19, he parachuted into France in the middle of the night as part of Operation Neptune, working to clear the way for the D-Day beach landings in Normandy. He also was a paratrooper during the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 16, 1944. Maseng and his fellow paratroopers in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment received the Distinguished Unit Citation for "extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy" and their "display of gallantry, determination and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions."

Following the war, he completed his studies at the University of Illinois and began his career in engineering. Maseng joined Wilbur Smith and Associates in Columbia in 1964, working on highway design and traffic and transportation projects east of the Mississippi River and along the Atlantic coast from Connecticut to Florida. He also worked on overseas projects in places such as Australia, Ireland, Nicaragua and Greece.

He is a member of the University Associates and the Cooper Society at the University of South Carolina. He has demonstrated a lifelong dedication to public and community service through his involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and the national Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge organization, serving as president of the group's South Carolina chapter.

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