Luke Walsh dropped out of Montclair Catholic High School – Immaculate Conception High School – in 1942 to serve in the US Navy during World War II. Now, 70 years after he was supposed to graduate, Walsh wore a cap and gown to receive an honorary diploma during commencement exercises at the school from which he would have graduated.
According to Barbara Hughes, the president of the alumni association, the 90-year-old veteran dropped out to join five older brothers already serving. Walsh served three years in the Pacific where he laid smoke screens to defend against kamikaze pilots in Okinawa and Iwo Jima.
“We were always in fear of danger there,” Walsh said. “Didn’t know what was going to happen.”
When he returned from service at the age of 20, he looked to complete his high school education. He was too old to return to his original school, but Walsh managed to complete his high school education through night classes and eventually received his diploma. Still, “the Catholic education was a missing piece for him,” Dyer said.
Over the years, Walsh kept in touch with alumni from the school. During a golf game, he mentioned that Immaculate Conception hadn’t allowed him to return after finishing his service. The word got around and the school began working to get him his honorary degree, finally crediting the veteran for his time at there.
“In all the years I’ve gone to different graduations, this is probably the most moving graduation,” Hughes said.
As Walsh dressed for the ceremony, he joked that he never liked wearing hats. Three Marines escorted Walsh into the ceremony. They presented him with a blanket, saying, “As a thank you for having the Marine’s back during World War II, we now have you covered.”
The students gave Walsh a standing ovation as he received his diploma from Rachel Cologne, another graduate at the ceremony who deferred her enrollment into college in order to join the Army. Although it was over 60 years later than expected, Walsh was finally able to receive his Catholic school diploma while his children and 94-year-old sister watched in the audience.