Return The Favor: High school diplomas for veterans

STEELTON, Pa. (WHTM) – Veterans have made a lot of sacrifices over the years. Many were serving our country and didn’t get the opportunity to experience things some may take for granted, but now with the help of some Dauphin County third graders, those vets are getting a second chance.

Joe Ulrich is a maintenance man in the Steelton-Highspire School District. He’s also a veteran. He served in the Marines from 1971 to 1973. Because of that, he didn’t get to finish school. He says he’s not the only one. Many dropped out to serve in the military. Some were drafted.

Ulrich regretted not getting a diploma for a long time. He waited 37 years but finally got his GED. Now he wants other vets to feel his same sense of accomplishment.

That’s where Ms. Esposito’s third-grade class at Steelton-Highspire Elementary comes in. They’re helping Ulrich with the Operation Recognition Project. They’re looking for veterans who lived in the Steelton-Highspire School District and served in the military during World War II, the Korean conflict, or the Vietnam War. If they didn’t finish school, they are eligible to receive their high school diplomas. The school will have a special ceremony for them later this year.

“It was something that I was very passionate about,” teacher Nicolle Esposito said. “Not only are we a school and we teach the kids here, but we also need to reach out to the community. We need to show the community that we can work hand and hand. It’s very important for the community to be part of our school system.”

“When you see some of these guys say I’ve been waiting 60 years for this, think about anything you’ve been waiting 60 years to get. When you finally get your hands on it, it means a lot,” Ulrich said.

The class is raising money for the ceremony by selling special pens they’ve been making. They’re also selling t-shirts.

If you or someone you know is eligible for this program, contact Nicolle Esposito at Steelton-Highspire Elementary at 704-3800 ext. 4104 or email Joe Ulrich at

You can get more information at Steelton-Highspire’s website.

Diplomas may be given posthumously. Right now, they have a few submissions. They would like to get more.

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