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91-Year-Old WWII Veteran Finally Receives High-School Diploma

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- It's called "operation recognition," a state program that grants diplomas to people who never graduated because they chose to enlist in the military service.

91-year-old Thomas Smith will be taking advantage of the opportunity Thursday morning at SPAC, and he will be graduating with the Saratoga Springs class of 2014.

Smith says it all started when he heard about other veterans going back for their diplomas.

"It was funny, I walked into the main office, and Deb looked at me and said, 'Tom, where you been?'"

It's been 74 years. Smith had to drop out of high school when he was 17 to take care of his sick parents. His father was a WWI veteran that was gassed in the war, and his mother was suffering from a tumor.

When Smith was 19 he was drafted into the Army and was assigned to the 554th ordinance heavy maintenance co. This unit was part of the 10th armored group that was involved with a top secret weapon, nicknamed the "gizmo," and then later officially known as the "canal defense light."

They trained in secrecy in the Butler Valley at Camp Bose in Arizona. The mission remained top secret for about 70 years. The unit mounted a several million candle watt light onto a tank, and the tank was designed to support river crossings to blind the enemy during WWII.

"I was one of the trustworthy guys they said," says Smith. "They sent me with a tractor trailer to get equipment to bring back. I didn't even know what it was, I didn't know what it was doing, but I brought it back."

Smith says he's always followed orders, not just in the Army, but also at home from his wife, and her top order ever since he was discharged, was going back and getting his high school diploma.

"My wife was right at me, and I didn't pay no attention," Smith says. "I said 'Flourence, what would I use a diploma for now? I've got a family, four kids to work for, and they have to be taken care of, and I don't have a chance to go back to school.'"

Flourence passed away in January, and Smith says he made it a point to go tell her about his big day.

"I talked to her about being there, I haven't heard back, but there was a signal," says Smith.

Three of Smith's four kids will be at SPAC tomorrow when he receives his diploma, and they tell CBS6 they couldn't be more proud.

"His service in the military, he's been a wonderful father, he's so talented, and we just couldn't be happier for him," says Mike Smith.

Graduation will start at 9am. Saratoga Springs Principal, Brett Miller says they are expecting thousands to attend.
 
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