William R. Joyce was 17 years old when he was sent off to fight in World War II in 1943.
Yesterday, more than a half-century after they left Cambridge High and Latin School and the Rindge Technical High School, Joyce and 84 other WWII veterans finally received their high school diplomas in a graduation ceremony at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS).
The ceremony was the culmination of "Operation Recognition," a program started by former Cambridge Mayor Francis H. Duehay '55 to grant diplomas to veterans who left Cambridge high schools to fight in World War II.
Some former soldiers, like Joyce, elatedly hugged old friends. Others broke down in tears. But most were simply glad to fill, at least symbolically, the gap left in their lives when they were called to the front and their childhood came to an abrupt end.
"I'm thrilled right now," said veteran Albert A. Borges, who would have graduated in 1946 but received his diploma yesterday.
"I feel very humble for receiving it," Borges added. "It's a wonderful experience to be recognized like we were today."
NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw was the keynote speaker of "Operation Recognition 2000," held before a respectful crowd of about 400 in CRLS' War Memorial gymnasium.
"I stand in awe of all of you because you have been my teachers," Brokaw said. "We are in awe of your modesty and your determination to be judged by a life lived well."
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