World War II veteran Robert Lockard dropped out of high school more than 75 years ago.

On Saturday, at age 93, he went back, walked across the stage with the 2018 graduating class of Circleville High — and received his long-missed diploma.

“I’m proud of it,” Lockard said from his home in Columbus, Ohio. “I finally did it.”

Lockard is a decorated veteran who was awarded three Bronze Stars and earned a World War II Victory Medal.

He grew up poor in Pickaway County, Ohio. At age 16, he was a promising student at Circleville High, but his father was ill, and Lockard brought in the only income supporting his family of four. His evening job at the local movie theater was time-consuming, and he didn’t always turn in his homework assignments.

Lockard was supposed to be in the Circleville High class of 1944, but instead he became discouraged by a teacher who failed him for not turning in his homework. Lockard dropped out when he was 16 and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program set up several years earlier during the Great Depression.

He was biding his time until he was old enough to join the war. He was drafted when he was 18 and shipped over to Europe.

Lockard served in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a cook and then in the Army’s 89th Division, 354th Infantry Regiment, which took him through the Normandy, northern France and central Europe campaigns during the war. He saw the many horrors of combat.

“It was so bad,” he said, recalling fellow soldiers who were wounded and killed.

When he returned, he said he could barely get out of bed for six months because of a condition his doctor called “nerves.” He then joined the Ohio National Guard, where he was a recruiter, before going to trade school and becoming a mechanic.

He went on to live his life and had three children. He’d been enjoying a long retirement and fishing often. Several months ago, he visited the Pickaway County veterans services, where they asked him his life story. When he explained that he had dropped out of high school, one of the workers asked whether he would like to get his diploma.

It was something he had always wanted.

It turns out that in 2006, Ohio passed a law that allowed veterans of World War II and other conflicts who dropped out of high school and served their country to go back and receive their diploma.

About two months ago, Circleville High Principal Chris Thornsley got a call from the veterans services office asking whether he would be willing to extend an honorary degree to a veteran who was supposed to graduate in 1944.

Absolutely, he said.

On Saturday, Lockard slipped on a cap and gown and sat in Circleville’s gymnasium with the rest of the 152 grads. He was the only one who had a cane.

When Thornsley called his name, Lockard walked over to receive his diploma.

“I was nervous,” Lockard said. “It was emotional.”

He got a full minute-long standing ovation, according to local TV station WBNS-10TV.

“It was great to honor to give him his diploma,” Thornsley said.

Back at home, Lockard placed his framed diploma on the mantel over his fireplace, next to other military and civilian awards and honors he has collected through the years.

Nearby over the fireplace is a photo of his youngest grandson at his own high school graduation two years ago.

“I can’t stop looking up at that mantel,” Lockard said. “It feels so good.”

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