OSWEGO, NY – Harold Woods turned 87 years old on Dec. 15. On Tuesday night he did something he hasn’t done in his entire life.
The veteran of World War II and the Korean War finally received his high school diploma.
The lifelong resident of the Oswego-Minetto area has received 19 service medals for his military achievements.
According to his daughter, Liz, among the medals he had earned are:
Presidential Unit Citation, Two Good Conduct medals, Honorable Service WW II, American Campaign Medal, Euro-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Army Occupation of Germany and Japan, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal.
But, she added, they had no idea what the medals actually meant.
“So, we wrote to them (Veterans’ Affairs) to find out what all these medals mean,” his daughter explained. “We have them, but there was no explanation. So they sent me an explanation as to what they all are; and said that he is missing nine (other medals). They told us they would arrive within the next 90 days, and that was a month ago.”
While she was doing her research, her boss became interested in her efforts. She is the office assistant for the school district’s clerk, William Foley.
“He told us about Operation Recognition and helped us be able to finally get a diploma,” she said.
Operation Recognition began back in the 1990s to recognize World War and Korean veterans who never took part in graduation ceremonies with their high school classes, according to Foley.
“Many of them attended school for a short period of time and then left to serve our country. And, the government felt that after all their experiences in the military that it was worth (high school requirements) and they should be given a high school diploma,” he said.
Woods left after only two years of (high) school, Foley noted. He joined the military and served in World War II and then the Korean War.
He got out of (high) school when he was 18 because he went into the service, his daughter said.
“I got out of regular school, the newly minted OHS graduate told Oswego County Today. “I had asthma real bad. I was 18 when I was drafted. Nobody expected them to take me. They gave me this new medicine so it was possible for me to breath pretty good. I was in the Minetto Union School.”
Instead of graduating, he found himself in Germany.
“I got around quite a bit, that’s for sure. It’s quite hard for me to remember all the places now. But I traveled around that’s for sure; Europe and Korea,” he said.
“I’m excited to actually be receiving my diploma tonight. After all these years, I really get one – it means a lot to me,” he continued.
“Tonight we want to welcome Harold Woods as our latest graduate from Oswego High School. He celebrated his 87th birthday last week, so this is a late birthday present for Mr. Woods,” Foley said as the audience and board applauded.
“This certifies that Harold Raymond Woods has satisfactorily completed a course of study prescribed by the board of education from the Oswego High School and is therefore entitled to this diploma given at Oswego, New York, on the 20th day of December 2011,” said Superintendent Bill Crist reading from the citation. “It is signed by signed by the board president (John Dunsmoor), myself and the principal (Brian Hartwell) of the high school. Congratulations, Mr. Woods!”
Woods then made his way to the front of the board room to receive his diploma and pose with school board officials as family, friends and the media snapped photographs.
“They made me a cake,” he laughed. “It says I finally graduated!”
“We have probably given out less than 10 of these special recognition diplomas since the program started,” Foley said.
“If anyone knows of someone in their family, a friend who might not have received a high school diploma because they were in the service, please contact the district clerk’s office and we will move forward with getting that person a deserved diploma,” he added.
He can be reached at 341-2020.