- Associated Press - Thursday, May 21, 2015

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - In many ways, it was a typical graduation scene. The graduate’s name was announced, and he received his diploma on stage to a round of applause and cheers from his fellow senior class.

But the scene that took place Wednesday morning in the Central High School gymnasium was far from routine.

When James Dalton McDaniel’s name was called, the 89-year-old World War II veteran reached up from his wheelchair on the makeshift stage to accept his diploma.

McDaniel had to leave Central during his senior year in 1945 when he was drafted into the Navy for the war. As a result, he did not graduate.

On Wednesday, the school righted that wrong by issuing him a diploma 70 years later amid a rousing standing ovation from the Central senior class and others in attendance at the school’s senior awards day program.

“I knew something was up, but I didn’t know it was this,” McDaniel later said while examining the red diploma cover that bears the high school’s name in gold letters.

He opened the diploma and saw his name. McDaniel said the feeling of beholding it for the first time was beyond description.

“I couldn’t even name it, it feels so good.”

His family and school officials arranged the surprise, said his son, Donnie McDaniel, who was beaming after the ceremony.

“It means everything to us,” Donnie McDaniel said. “Our entire family graduated from Central High School. I did, my brother did, we all did. Dad wasn’t able to, but his brother did.”

Instead, James Dalton McDaniel spent 1945 aboard the USS LST 1126. He was in the bloody Battle of Okinawa, one of the biggest conflicts of the war, his son said. The death toll reached into the hundreds of thousands, including civilians.

As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, the LST 1126 encountered a typhoon that pushed it back 100 miles from where it was docked and rocked it with waves that reached 60 to 100 feet high. The sailors had to tie themselves in their beds for days to withstand the storm.

After the war, James Dalton McDaniel returned home and enrolled in school, but so much had changed that he could not complete it, his son said. Still, he insisted his children graduate.

“He had always wanted us to get a better education,” Donnie McDaniel said, adding he hopes this inspires others. “Never lose your dream, because it’s always possible.”

James Dalton McDaniel said the school has changed tremendously since his time there.

“I wouldn’t know where I was at if they turned me loose,” he joked.

He said he plans to keep his diploma in his bedroom next to his bed.

As he held his diploma and posed for photos with family members, James Dalton McDaniel expressed his gratitude.

“I appreciate all you’ve done for me, and all of those who have served in the war,” he said.


Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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