At just 16, Robert Lockhard dropped out of Circleville High School in Pickaway, Ohio.
That was 77 years ago.
At the time, Robert's father was very ill and his mother was busy caring for the family, so she couldn't work. Robert's job at a local movie theater was the only income the family relied on. But the job took a toll on him, and after he had to answer to teachers one too many times because of a missed homework assignment, he got frustrated and dropped out.
He wasn't old enough to join the military, so he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program, until he was old enough to join the military.
At the age of 18, he was drafted and was sent to Europe.
According to the Washington Post:
"Lockard served in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a cook and then in the Army’s 89th Division, 354th Infantry Regiment, which took him through the Normandy, northern France and central Europe campaigns during the war. He saw the many horrors of combat. "I saw too much death,' Robert said.
For his service, Robert was awarded three Bronze Stars and a World War II Victory Medal.
After what he saw in the war, he had a hard time adjusting when he came back home. For six months he said he could barely function. But eventually, he joined the Ohio National Guard as a recruiter and then attended trade school and became a mechanic.
He says he always thought about getting his high school diploma, but 'life just happened' and he never followed through. He had three children, eventually retired and enjoyed spending time with his family, grandchildren and fishing.
But when he visited a local veterans organization a few months ago and talked about his story, one of the employees asked him if he wanted to get his diploma.
Robert said yes.
The employee knew about an Ohio law, passed in 2006, that allowed veterans who dropped out of high school to serve, to go back and receive their diploma. The employee called the school principal and asked if they would extend an honorary degree to Robert.
Principal Chris Thornsley didn't hesitate and said he would be honored to do so.
So, on Saturday, Robert put on his cap and gown and joined 152 graduating seniors at Circleville High's graduation.
When Principal Thornsley called his name, he walked over to receive his diploma. The audience gave him a standing ovation, for more than a minute.
When Robert got home that day, he says placed his diploma on his mantle next to his military awards and photos of his children and grandchildren. He told the Washington Post:
“I can’t stop looking up at that mantel. It feels so good.”
Now, can someone please remove all the dust from the room, our eyes are watering!
Thank you for your service Robert.