When America was in the thick of World War 2, young Milton Mockerman heard his country's call. He dropped out of high school, forged his birth certificate and joined the Navy. For two and a half years he fought the Nazis and the empire of Japan, helping the allies to victory.
"Everybody my age was engulfed in a war. It was a war to survive, everybody that could was serving," Mockerman told ABC news.
When he came home he found that being a war hero didn't exactly pay the bills. Under-educated, and with few others to call on, Mockerman hit the streets looking for work. He eventually found it, working on the railroad for over 30 years.
It was a good job that kept a roof over his head and put food on his family's table, but there was always something missing. Mockerman wanted to complete his education, but could never afford the time away from work, or the tuition costs. At a certain point he felt it would be impossible to cross the stage as a high school graduate.
He was wrong.
See how Mockerman got his diploma on the next page!
Fast-forward 71 years and Mockerman has long since retired. Some say the key to surviving retirement is finding something you're passionate about. Some people travel, some take up a hobby. Mockerman didn't want to travel, and no hobby held his interest long enough. What he really wanted was to finish he started 7 decades earlier.
With his family moved out and no work to get in the way, he finally decided it was time to go back to school. He dialed up his old school Kalkaska High School and told them his story. He asked if there were any courses he could take that would help him graduate.
On the other end of the line was Mary Deb Rabourn, the principal's secretary. After being moved by Mockerman's story she knew what she had to do.
"Both my grandfather's fought in World War 2, and they're both gone and have been gone for awhile. So, it was very emotional for me as well and just wanting to make this happen for him," she said.
She started a push to have Mockerman recognized with an honorary degree from the school, and the board immediately accepted. He was to cross the floor with the graduating class that very year.
When they told him that, 71-years later than expected, he'd be a high school graduate, Mockerman was nearly speechless.
"I don't know how you'd put it in words, but it does mean a lot to me," he said.
Milton Mockerman was asked to address his fellow graduates:
"This class must be smarter than I am because what took them 4 years, it took me 71 years," he said.
Mockerman's son and grandson made the trip up to see the war hero receive his diploma.
"It was one of the greatest things I've seen," said Mark Mockerman, Milton's son. "My dad doesn't receive a lot of notoriety, and he deserves it, because he's been the kind of dad that everyone should have had."
Maybe no one knew of him before, but at 89-years old Milton Mockerman is starting to receive his due.
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