A pair of military veterans who never got the chance to graduate fulfilled their dreams of walking across the stage in a cap and gown Saturday, decades after they each left high school.
Joe Perricone, 95, and Bill William Arnold Craddock, 85, served in World War II and the Korean War, respectively, meaning they each missed out on the opportunity to graduate with their senior classes.
Perricone was educated at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida, and even received a diploma, but was drafted in 1943 before he had the chance to walk.
“The draft board said, you go and serve your country and be a big boy,” he told CBS 12.
His grandson, Judge Thomas Palermo, knew Perricone’s dream, and arranged for him to be part of the ceremony at Saturday’s graduation, which included a special moment honoring Perricone for his service.
“It means a lot to us that someone we love very much will finally live out his dream,” Palermo told the outlet.
“We would like to welcome a very special guest. Joe Perricone is a member of the Hillsborough class of 1943,” Principal Gary Brady said before roaring applause and cheers were heard, as seen in a video shared by WFLA.
“He was honorably discharged in 1946. He has been married to his wife for 72 years. He will be receiving his long overdue and well-earned diploma with the class of 2019, 76 years after his own graduation day,” Brady added of Perricone, who was joined on stage by his daughter Dolores and grandson.
Craddock, meanwhile, left school in Tennessee to join the Air Force at 16 years old, meaning he didn’t get the chance to graduate with the class of 1953.
On Saturday, he was finally able to walk across the stage, with the 2019 graduating class at Volunteer High School.
“I’m tickled pink that I went through this to get this,” he told WJHL. “Seeing all these people and they have made me feel good.”
Craddock also made sure to share some sage wisdom with his fellow graduates: “I would tell that class to study hard and be good. Learn all they can and get the best education they can get,” he said, according to the outlet.