Return The Favor: World War II vets receive high school diplomas

STEELTON, Pa. (WHTM) – For the past several months, students at Steelton-Highspire Elementary raised money for a ceremony. They wanted veterans to receive something they weren’t able to because they were serving our country.

That idea grew into something very special.

Members of the school’s color guard and Fort Indiantown Gap’s honor guard led the way as the third-grade class marched to the high school auditorium. It’s graduation day, but on this day, the seniors are veterans who dropped out of school to join the military.

They never got their diplomas – until now.

“My grandfather got his diploma because he was in the Army when he couldn’t get his diploma,” 9-year-old Adrianna Fleet said.

Her great-grandfather, George Smith, served in the Army during World War II. Even though he’s not alive to see this day, Adrianna knows how important this is.

“He didn’t get to see this moment happen to him because he was over in war,” she said, “And I got to see it in public.”

Of the five graduates honored, only 91-year-old Alfred Carricato is alive to celebrate his achievement.

“My mother always told me you’ll go to school and graduate even if you gotta bring your wife and kids,” he said.

Carricato joined the Navy in 1944 and never finished his last year of school. Growing up, his mother always taught him the importance of an education.

“If it wouldn’t have been for the war, she would have made sure I graduated, too,” Carricato said.

Now, 73 years later, a moment he didn’t think he’d ever experience. Alfred Carricato, high school graduate.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said, “I never thought I would have a diploma. This makes my mom happy.”

It also puts a smile on the face of Joe Ulrich.

“I waited 37 years to get my GED,” he said, “I know the feeling. It feels good.”

Ulrich is the school district’s maintenance man and he’s also a Marine veteran. He helped put this whole thing together. But he’s most proud of the kids who got to witness this amazing moment.

“We led them into this whole process with the understanding you’re going to see something today that is going to inspire you to move on to be a better person and get your education,” he said.

A message Adrianna received loud and clear.

“If he wasn’t here for his diploma,” she said, “I wanna show him that I’m going to get my diploma.”

A piece of paper to some, priceless to others.

“It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life now,” Carricato said.

When Carricato came home from the war, he had always wanted to go back to school. But he needed money, so he went to work.

Now, with the diploma finally in his hands, he says he knows his mom is smiling down on him.

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