James Dalton McDaniel was a senior in high school when he was drafted into the Navy for the war in 1945. While the rest of his peers were graduating, McDaniel was aboard the USS LST 1126 and fighting in the Battle of Okinawa, and he never graduated from Central High School in Alabama.
The 89-year-old World War II veteran rolled onto the stage in his wheelchair during the high school’s graduation ceremony this week, where he received a diploma and a standing ovation — 70 years later.
“I knew something was up, but I didn’t know it was this,” McDaniel said as he held a red diploma embossed with gold letters and his name. “I couldn’t even name it, it feels so good.”
His son Donnie arranged the surprise for his dad.
“It means everything to us,” Donnie McDaniel said. “Our entire family graduated from Central High School. I did, my brother did, we all did. Dad wasn’t able to, but his brother did.”
“He had always wanted us to get a better education,” Donnie McDaniel said, and that he hopes this inspires others. “Never lose your dream, because it’s always possible.”
McDaniel said he plans to keep his diploma right next to his bed.