Instead of participating in his high school graduation in the spring of 1943, teenager Joe Perricone was training to serve as a combat engineer during World War II. Now, 76 years later, Perricone has formally accepted his diploma. The U.S. Army veteran joined the Hillsborough High School's Class of 2019 in Tampa, Fla., this past spring for pomp and circumstance he sorely missed.
"I never thought it would happen,” says Perricone, 95. “I was inducted into the Army February of my senior year. My high school diploma was mailed to my mother. I missed graduating.... It was a great experience to finally get to walk across the stage."
Perricone's grandson, Thomas Palermo, 43, secretly arranged to surprise his grandfather by arranging his participation in the ceremony.
“A lot of people worked together to surprise me to make it happen,” Perricone says. Sometimes you make the things you want [to] happen by doing them yourself. Sometimes, it is through the love of others. Either way, now is the time if you have a goal or dream.” During the ceremony, the graduate refused to use a walker and was helped by Palermo, who said his “Nano” was “like a rock star."
During his time in the Army, Perricone also served with the field artillery branch and in the infantry. During the war, he was initially sent to England and then to France, about three days after D-Day.
"I served through France, Belgium and Germany during the war and, after it, as part of the occupation of Germany,” he says. “My unit was preparing for and going to be sent to the Pacific but, because of Japan's surrender, we stayed in Europe.
"Through my entire service, I carried with me a handkerchief given to me by the love of my life, Hope. We married in 1947 and have now been married for 72 years,” he says.
Upon returning to the U.S., Perricone took art classes, co-owned a Phillips 66 gas station and raised a family with his wife.
"I've always believed in doing my best plus 10 percent. It's how I've tried to live my life. There are a lot of things I never thought I would get to do that I did, but graduation was certainly one I won't forget,” he says. “There were no other 95-year-olds graduating with the Class of 2019.”