90-Year-Old Veteran Receives Honorary Diploma After Dropping Out To Fight in World War II
After dropping out of high school in his freshman year to fight in World War II, 90-year-old veteran Luke Walsh is receiving his diploma from the New Jersey Catholic school he was supposed to graduate from 1946.
Walsh joined the Immaculate Conception Class of 2016 on stage in his cap and gown in a Thursday ceremony, where he was awarded an honorary diploma after dropping out to join the Navy.
According to Barbara Hughes, president of the school's booster club, the 90-year-old dropped out of the Montclair Catholic high school in 1942, joining his five older brothers who were already serving in World War II.
Walsh served for three years in the Pacific, where Assistant Principal Patrick Dyer told InsideEdition.com that he laid smoke screens against kamikaze pilots in Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
"We were always in fear of danger out there," he said in an interview with CBS New York, "didn't know what was going to happen.
When he returned from service at 20 years old, intending to complete his high school education, Walsh said the priest told him, "Well, Luke, don't you think you're a little too old?" CBS New York reported.
When even local public schools in the area had turned him down, he went on to complete his education in night classes, eventually receiving his high school diploma.
Even so, "the Catholic education was a missing piece for him," Dyer told IE.com.
Throughout the years, Walsh stayed in touch with the school's alumni. Over a game of golf, he began laughing with his friends about how Immaculate Conception had never let him return after finishing his service in the war.
As word got out, the school put the wheels in motion to make sure he received an honorary degree, finally receiving credit for his background with Immaculate Conception.
"In all the years I've gone to different graduations, this is probably the most moving graduation," Hughes said.
As Walsh was getting dressed in his cap and gown for the ceremony, Hughes remembered him joking that he never liked wearing hats.
Even though he graduated with students more than 70 years younger than him, Walsh was celebrated for his achievements all the same.
Three Marines escorted the veteran into the ceremony. They later presented him with a blanket, saying, "As a thank you for having the Marines' back during World War II, we now have you covered."
The students rose in a standing ovation as Walsh was presented his diploma by Rachel Cologne, another graduate at the ceremony who has deferred her enrollment into college to join the army.
Even though the achievement came over 60 years later than he expected, Walsh was able to receive his Catholic school honorary diploma as his children and 94-year-old sister watched lovingly in the audience.