Graduations decades in the making

Graduations decades in the making

What started as fulfilling a wish for his aging father now has become a bit of a calling for American Legion Rider Joe Sullivan.

The current director of American Legion Riders Chapter 442 in Horseheads, N.Y., and former vice director for the Department of New York’s Districts 5 and 6, Sullivan helped his father – Korean War veteran Charles Sullivan – obtain his high school diploma. Sullivan has since helped another Korean War veteran get his and is in the process of securing the same item for a third veteran.

“Last year was his 88th birthday,” Joe Sullivan said of his father. “I’ve been taking care of him, and I told him he doesn’t have to be restricted to the house. If he wants, I could just load him in the car and we could do whatever he wants to do. He just looked at me and said, ‘Joe, the only thing I wish I had ever done was go back to school and get my high school diploma.'”

Sullivan spoke to someone with the New York Department of Veterans Affairs and found out about Operation Recognition, a program created in New York’s Education Law that presents a New York state high school diploma to veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars who left high school to serve their nation and received a satisfactory discharge from the military.

Sullivan was able to get his father a diploma through Operation Recognition and presented it to his father during a lunch stop at Post 442.

“It just snowballed from there,” Sullivan said. “Come to find out, two of (Charles’) best friends that were there in attendance (at the post) did the same thing. They dropped out of high school and joined the military. None of them talked about it. They served together, and none of them discussed it. It’s like a taboo thing. That kind of sparked it with me.”

In January, Sullivan was able to secure a diploma for Korean War Army veteran Merv Stanton. The diploma was presented at Stanton’s home; those in attendance included Elmira City School Superintendent Hillary J. Austin and Director of Administration Jake Sheehan.

Sullivan is working on a diploma for another Korean War veteran and has five other people interested in receiving the same.

“I’ll (get them the diploma) for them if they want,” Sullivan said. “They don’t need me personally to do it or the school district to do it. But … I know it means more to the veteran if I take the time out of my day to do it and get the superintendent of the schools involved.

“This is something that needs to be out there and needs to be taken care of. My father held onto that diploma for three days. He didn’t let it go. That’s how much it means to them.”