Vietnam veteran gets high school diploma 54 years later

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — A veteran in Battle Creek is finally getting a right of passage he missed as a teen because of the Vietnam War.

Paul Masters enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve in the spring of 1965. It was his senior year at Battle Creek Central High School. That fall, he was deployed to Vietnam, where he would serve for two years.

Masters left for war before he was able to finish his high school. He was less than a credit short.

“You just, at that age you just don’t have time to do everything right,” Masters said. “I was traumatized by the fact that I didn’t graduate with my class.”

Masters came home from war and got his GED and graduated from Kellogg Community College, thanks to the GI Bill.

Even though he went on to live a happy life with his wife Lois, not having his high school diploma weighed heavily on Masters.

“When you see friends and they’re going to reunions and things like that, it comes up in your mind,” Masters said. “You don’t know if you’re welcome or should be there, et cetera, you know? It’s always a part of your thinking that you weren’t part of the graduating class.”

A few months ago, Masters contacted Battle Creek Public Schools about getting his diploma. When they learned his military status, they quickly decided to give Masters his diploma.

During a ceremony at the district office on Tuesday afternoon, Masters was joined by his wife and best friend from childhood.

Instead of a graduation party, Masters chose to spend his day honoring someone who he wishes could have been there when he got his diploma.

“I’m gonna go out to the cemetery and light a candle for my mother,” Masters said. “And show her my diploma and hope she gets something from it, you know?”

A representative for Battle Creek Public Schools encourages any veteran who came short of getting their diploma to contact the district. There is a free adult education program designed to help former students get a GED or other high school equivalency.

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