My plans for this week were pushed to the side when I read this article. It warmed my heart to read of a Veteran receiving recognition in such a special way.
LAWRENCE HAYES, center, left Fitch High School in Windsor during his junior year to join the Army and fight in the Korean War. He never received his diploma, but that was rectified Monday when it was presented to him during a special Veterans Day program at Windsor High School. U.S. Rep. John Larson, left, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, right, congratulate Hayes. (STEPHEN DUNN / November 12, 2007)
WINDSOR – Korean War veteran Lawrence Hayes sat proudly with his peers on the stage at Windsor High School Monday.
Hayes was joined by veterans from World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq, as the school which was among 17 districts in the state that held classes on Veterans Day observed their sacrifices and accomplishments.
But Hayes, 76, also had another, more personal reason for being at the school.
He was there to get the diploma he passed up in May of 1950, when as a 19-year-old junior at John Fitch High School (predecessor of Windsor High School), he left school early and enlisted in the U.S. Army.
“I’m proud to get my diploma at this late a year,” Hayes said as hundreds of students in the audience rose for a standing ovation. “If I can do it somebody else can do it.”
Hayes, who spent three years in the Army including a year in Korea building bridges, was honorably discharged as a corporal and went on to spend 40 years as a truck driver. After retiring, the Norwich resident delivered Meals on Wheels for 10 years and now volunteers as a foster grandparent in local schools.
A few months ago, Hayes said, he decided to see if he could get his diploma and contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd. After being told he could, Hayes called the high school to see if they would be willing to give him a diploma. The high school was happy to oblige.
“For us it’s an absolute honor,” said Elizabeth Feser, Windsor’s superintendent of schools, who presented Hayes his diploma.
Monday’s graduation ceremony, which was also attended by U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, and Connecticut Attorney General and former U.S. Marine Sgt. Richard Blumenthal, was the culmination of a daylong focus on Veterans Day in the school district.
Three years ago, after gauging the feelings of local veterans, the Windsor Board of Education decided to hold classes instead of giving students the day off.
“We felt we would be able to educate the kids better about Veterans Day,” said Feser, adding that each of the seven schools in the district engaged in activities that focused on veterans.
At the high school, students created a 12-minute video dedicated to veterans that included a segment on the history of taps. About 1,400 students watched the video from their classrooms.
“It was very powerful,” said television production teacher Steve Hodges. “You could hear a pin drop.”
Eight veterans also spent the day speaking to students about their reasons for joining the military, how it prepared them for life and some of their experiences.
Junior Abbey Michaud said Monday that she has changed her mind about the district’s decision to hold school on the holiday.
“At first I thought it was definitely wrong,” Michaud said. “But then you get to the point that you appreciate it.”
Hayden Joseph, a captain and company commander in the Army, was among those who appreciated Hayes’ efforts.
“We thank you for serving our nation and congratulate you on this special day,” Joseph said.
Hayes said he plans to make a copy of the diploma and hang it on a wall in his home. The original, he said, will be placed on his late wife Teresa’s dresser. She died in 2005.
“So she can know I did it,” Hayes said. “She would have been proud.”