Korean War vet gets high school diploma 60 years later

Richard Armstrong was just a teen when he joined the Air Force and fought in the Korean War.

Years later he has another title to be proud of - a high school graduate.

It's a moment that should have taken place 60 years ago.

"It's kind of exciting for the fact that I never even thought that this was going to happen," Armstrong said.

When you're in a rush to serve your country, things like finishing high school tend to take a back seat.

"I just quit school, is what I did," he said.  

Such is the life of Richard Armstrong, who at the young age of 17 left Rochester High School to join the Air Force at the tail end of the Korean War.

"So I told my parents I was going into the paratroopers," Armstrong said. "And they said no way would they sign for that. So I switched to the Air Force.

That was where Armstrong says he grew up, rubbing shoulders with World War II veterans.

He repaired fighter plans and earning his GED while stationed in Guam. He even applied for his diploma a few years after enlisting.

"I got back to Rochester High School to see if they if would give me a diploma and at that time, they wouldn't," Armstrong said.  "So I forgot about it."

Even so, he got along just fine without it.

He married his wife of now 56 years, started a family and became a home builder.

But more than half a century after dropping out of high school, Armstrong started thinking about his diploma again after learning a Vietnam veteran receiving his diploma decades after leaving school.

"I am sitting home, I'm 78 years old, retired doing nothing," he said. "I thought, I'll call the school and see if I can do that." 

Thanks to Public Act 181 of 2001 he could. It allows school boards to award diplomas to Korean War era veterans.

"Wow, how nice is that," Armstrong said as he held the framed diploma in his hands.

And Monday night the Rochester community school board did just that - and Richard's children and grandchildren were there for it

"It's very unusual don't you think, that my children over here get to see their father graduate from high school," Armstrong said.

"I am extremely pleased that he went and tried to do it," said one of Armstrong's sons. "It's an accomplishment that everybody should do."

As the old saying goes, better late than never.

No college plans for Armstrong but he will likely have a high school graduation party later on this year with his teenage granddaughter. 

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