When the senior class at Guntersville High School walks the stage next month for graduation, a special graduate will join them: a veteran who quit school to serve his country.
This high school senior is also a senior in another sense of the word. At 73, he is set to receive a diploma by the state because of his service.
"This has really gotten bigger than I thought it was going to be," said Tommy Battles. "I thought I was just going to get a diploma."
55 years late, but some say better late than never. Battles quit school to help his parents out financially.
"I couldn't find a job so the next best thing I could do was go in the service and send them money home each month," he said.
Battles served on a special detail at John F. Kennedy's inauguration. After getting out, and in the years that passed, Battles found himself out of a job. Getting more work wasn't easy.
"Everybody I would call would say you have to have a high school education," he explained.
His next stop was the Career Center in Fort Payne, where he discovered he was eligible for a diploma due to his service under the state's program, Operation Recognition. He contacted Guntersville High School and requested they send him one.
The school said yes – if he would walk with the rest of the class.
"For me, it will be a big honor because I take much pride in those who serve our country and I have the utmost respect for them," said SGA president Jaqueline Keck.
After 55 years, it's exciting for Tommy as well.
"It's just something that I have never had. All my kids got a diploma," he said.
Battles will walk across the stage with the rest of his classmates May 22.
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