- Associated Press - Thursday, August 21, 2014

BOONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - In the fall of 1946, Quinton Dwight Aldridge left Tennyson High School after only three weeks into his senior year to join the Marine Corps.

Expecting to be drafted into the Army, he and a buddy decided to enlist in the Marines instead. He served two years - traveling from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to the Mediterranean - while his classmates at Tennyson graduated and received their diplomas.

Aldridge didn’t get his until Monday evening’s Warrick County School Board meeting - 67 years after his classmates and more than a half century after Tennyson High closed in 1962.

Still Aldridge, now 87, beamed with pride at the piece of thick, white paper framed in black and gold, with his name written in a fancy script presented to him by Warrick County Superintendent Brad Schneider and School Board President Gary Hachmeister.

Indiana law allows school corporations to honor veterans - men and women who served in World Wars I and II, as well as Vietnam and Korea - with a high school diploma if their military service hindered them from graduating.

Walter Lambert, the director of secondary curriculum and instruction for the school corporation, said he felt it was a great way to make others aware of someone who was a part of history.

“I think it’s important for us as educators to remind not just the children we teach, but the community at large, that there are these people still around and they have a great history to tell us,” Lambert told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1q2rXno ). “They have a lot of things we can learn from them and get better as a society.”

Aldridge learned of the state law from the school board’s attorney, Mark Neff.

Neff said after meeting Aldridge, he felt like it would be a great way to honor the veteran - and give Aldridge a way to combine his pride in his service, with a pride in his diploma.

Although Aldridge has difficulty walking and uses a thin, wooden cane, his memory is quick and he can recall his time in the service with uncanny clarity.

“You’re touching history, honey,” he says, when he shows people the cane that once belonged to his father. “I wouldn’t take a farm in Georgia for that.”

The man is a charming flirt, and will tell others he’s going to live his life the way he wants on his own terms - and has stories to back up the claim.

Part of his charm is his unyielding kindness, said Bridget Davis, one of Aldridge’s friends. She and Richard Ziliak met Aldridge one day when he was driving by their home, and stopped to say hello.

“He kind of adopted us, and we kind of adopted him,” Ziliak said. “He’s a pistol. He’s got some stories that you’d never believe.”

But it’s his kindness and generosity that make the veteran special, they said.

“He’ll give you the shirt of his back if you need it,” Ziliak said.

Aldridge’s devotion to his wife Dorothy, who died three years ago, is evident every time he calls her his “little woman,” or talks about their life together raising children and living in their Warrick County home.

“I had my little woman for 40 years,” he said. “She was 89 when she passed away.”

The couple had two children as well as two stepchildren, who have died.

Bob Hoper, Aldridge’s step son-in-law, said it was “amazing” to see the man who was a father to his late wife be honored by the community.

“My wife had just really adopted him as her dad,” Hoper said. “He’s really the only grandfather our boys know. My wife would have just absolutely loved this. It’s meaningful to me through her.”

Aldridge said he served for two years - with six months as a guitar player in a band called the “Mountain Dew Merrymakers” on the USS. Midway.

“I was an entertainer,” he said, and had a lot of fun playing in the four-man band.

They played bluegrass, and “hillbilly” music - or whatever they decided to pick that night.

But Aldridge did more than just pick his guitar. He was also a trained marksman and sniper. He was honorably discharged in 1948 as a private first class. Although he never saw combat, Aldridge said he was trained for it, and saw quite a bit as an avid observer.

“I saw some sights on that cruise, honey,” he said. “When we got back to Norfolk, Virginia, we had more men in our freezers than we had food.”

Aldridge said he survived his service unscathed, but it was the decades after that have been hard for him. He’s battled car crashes and cancer, and deaths of friends and family members.

“I have whipped cancer, and a few other things, and here I am,” he said.

And he’s proud of his diploma.

“Look at that sucker,” he said to friends who came to see him “graduate.”

“It ain’t every day you get a piece of equipment like this.”


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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