2 Veterans Missed Their High School Graduations to Go to War, Get Their Diplomas 70 Years Later

June 7, 2019 Updated: June 14, 2019

Joe Perricone, of Tampa, Florida, and Bill William Arnold Craddock, of Church Hill, Tennessee, are a decade apart in age. They grew up in different areas, and seemingly don’t have much in common beyond both serving in the United States armed forces.

The pair share a unique bond, though, in that neither ended up officially graduating with their high school classes before enlisting to serve in their respective branches of the military. So this past weekend, they ended up both participating in a rather special moment when they each went back to their high schools to graduate—right around 70 years after they each left in the first place.

Perricone was a student at Hillsborough High School in 1943 when he was drafted to serve in World War II. And while he eventually received his diploma from his high school, he was robbed of the opportunity to walk across the stage with all of his friends.

“My draft board said, ‘You go serve your country and be a big boy,’” he told WTSP 10 News. Although he tried to get a deferment, he wasn’t ultimately able to stick around at school long enough to hit the milestone and graduate in person with his friends.

Craddock, on the other hand, left on purpose. He dropped out of Volunteer High School—then called Science Hill High School—when he was 16 years old. He went on to serve in the Air Force during the Korean War, and while he ended up getting his GED later in life, he ultimately didn’t get a chance to walk across the stage either.

That changed for both this spring, though, when they each traveled back to their respective high schools to walk with the Class of 2019.

In Tampa, Perricone’s grandson Judge Thomas Palermo arranged for his opportunity to don a cap and gown, working with the school board and Hillsborough High School’s principal Gary Brady to get his shining moment. It served as a touching, positive moment in a year where less than 500,000 of the 16 million veterans who served in the Second World War are still alive.

There are far more Korean War veterans still alive, but the moment was equally special for Craddock.

“I’m tickled pink that I went through this to get this,” Craddock said,speaking to WJHL News Channel 11. “Seeing all these people, and they have made me feel good.”

He’s a full 66 years older than the other students who walked across the stage at their graduation in Tennessee this past month, but the advice that he had for them showed just how little has changed for the teens getting ready to enter the real world.

“I would tell that class to study hard and be good,” he said, sharing the advice he’d give for modern-day graduates looking back on his own experiences. “Learn all they can and get the best education they can get.”

The pair went viral when CNN shared the heartwarming picture of both men wearing their respective caps and gowns, grinning proudly after achieving something absolutely incredible. And while many were quick to thank them for their service, others pointed out that their achievements are a fantastic source of motivation for anyone else who hasn’t quite gotten a chance to finish high school yet.

“Guess we don’t have any excuses now, do we ladies and gentlemen?” one commenter cheekily wrote on Instagram.