There are some of those who during times of war gave up what would have been some of their best memories to answer their country's call. Some of those brave men live right here in Long Island's communities.
Graduates Bill Coyle (left), Tom Bennet (2nd left) and Mike Tetro (right) are congratulated by Assemblyman Tom Alfano.
During the waning days of their high school years when conflict threatened peace, some young men went off to faraway places forsaking their academic and family lives in service to the country.
Three of those veterans - Tom Bennet, Mike Tetro and Bill Coyle of Elmont - went off to war before finishing high school, never receiving their high school diplomas. On Wednesday morning at the Covert Avenue School, a special graduation ceremony was held, during which the three veterans received honorary high school diplomas.
The event, which was hosted by Assemblyman Tom Alfano, was made possible through Operation Recognition, which allows veterans who served their country when they could have been finishing up high school to receive their diplomas.
The three veterans received what has been a long time coming with the gala ceremony attended by members of Elmont School District administration, parents and students of the Elmont Summer School program.
"We wanted to make this event really special for these three men and their families. We also wanted to make it an educational tool for our young people to see and hear about the people who built this country during very hard times when these heroes served, came home and built the country," said Alfano, who joked before the ceremony by asking the men how their prom was.
The graduation ceremony was coordinated and created by community members, young people, Assemblyman Alfano and his staff and Superintendent of Schools for the Elmont School District Dr. Maria Palandra. Covert Avenue Summer School Principals Dennis Cowan, who served as the Master of Ceremonies, and Stacia Alexander involved the students in the Elmont Summer Enrichment program and art class. Also participating in the coordination was Assemblyman Alfano's summer internship program staff led by Frank Savinon, Christin Hordern, Alissa Infurna, Ronny Cohen, T.J. Dangerfield, J.R. Belotte, Eldon Phillips, Mike Bradshaw, Paul Lee, Dan Benigno, Corey Harris, Juan Restrepo and Chad Naraidu.
For Bennet, Tetro and Coyle, receiving their diplomas was indeed special as the three men were honored by the ceremony. However, each of the men look back on their service with pride.
Mr. Tetro recalled wanting to quit school to enlist in the army. However, since he came from a poor family, he waited and was eventually drafted into the Army.
Mr. Tetro's service included landing on the beach of Normandy after D-Day and being wounded in Germany by sniper fire. On his jacket he wears the medals he has collected from the bravery he displayed over a half a century ago. But Mr. Tetro hasn't stopped his service to his comrades as he often visits the Veterans Administration Hospitals in St. Albans and Northport.
Mr. Bennet felt pleased to be able to celebrate the occasion with his eight grandchildren, although he did earn the equivalent of a high school diploma in the Army. He left high school when he was 18 years old to enlist at the start of the Korean War. Being from an Army family with his father serving in World War I and his brother serving in World War II and Korean and Vietnam Wars, it was natural for him to join the service and he did so without second thoughts. "You're right off the World War II. You grew up through the whole war so everything was patriotism," he said.
For Mr. Coyle, the end of high school was near when he was drafted into the Navy in 1944. He was a part of the crew of a destroyer escort that was fired upon numerous times while in the Pacific.
"I feel much older," he said jokingly before receiving his honorary diploma. Although the three graduates are much older than they would have been if they would have finished high school without spending time in the armed forces, they finally got what they deserved - to be called a veteran and a high school graduate.