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Wayne Post
  • A Newark grad, a few years late

  • There was no pomp and circumstance, no cap and gown when Tom Viola received his high school diploma. But Viola didn’t need any of that anyway. It was an honor he’d waited most of his life to receive.

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  • There was no pomp and circumstance, no cap and gown when Tom Viola received his high school diploma. But Viola didn’t need any of that anyway. It was an honor he’d waited most of his life to receive.
    On May 15, at the age of 87, Viola was presented his high school diploma by School Superintendent Henry Hann at the Newark Board of Education meeting — it was the day before his 60th wedding anniversary.
    Viola is a World War II veteran receiving a diploma through Operation Recognition, which allows veterans to earn high school diplomas if they left school without graduating. State education law created Operation Recognition to recognize the dedication and sacrifice of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans who left school before graduation by awarding them a high school diploma.
    Viola left school in 1943 at the age of 17 to join the Navy with grand visions of fighting for his country. Little did he know what that meant.
    “I wanted to help,” he recalled. “I wanted to go to war and fight the (Japanese), but I didn’t realize what a job that was.”
    For a time, he worked for a company that put up snow fences along the railroad while he waited to get into the military. By 1945, Viola was serving on the USS Monterey, a light carrier that held about 26 planes sailing with the USS Enterprise. The carrier at one time was “home” to President Gerald Ford, and although Viola said that was before he came aboard, it was something that brought pride to he and his shipmates.
    During his service to his country, Viola earned two Asiatic Pacific Theatre Battle Star medals, a Philippine Liberation ribbon, a Victory medal and the American Theatre medal. When the war ended, his craft took two trips to Italy — one to return Italian prisoners of war to the country and the second to bring American troops home. Viola re-enlisted during peacetime and entered the Air Force, stationed in Okinawa. When his military career ended, he went back home to Newark and for a time owned the restaurant Texas Lunch with his brother, Billy. It was there that he met his wife, Gloria.
    “I told her if she was 18, I’d marry her,” Viola said. “And she said I am 18 and I will marry you.”
    At the time, Viola said he was just being funny, but he’d never call it a mistake. They married in 1953.
    “I say it backfired on me, but it was a good thing,” he said. “I was very lucky to meet the girl I did.”
    Together, they raised two children, Teresa and Tom.
    Viola’s next adventure will be an Honor Flight, originally scheduled for this Father’s Day. But due to a recent illness Viola has had to postpone the flight.
    Page 2 of 2 - For now, Viola is content having his high school diploma framed and hung on a wall at his home. And it’s all thanks to his daughter, Teresa, that Viola finally has a diploma.
    “He always would say that he quit school and went into the military,” she said. “He’d always say he wanted to get his high school diploma.”
    So Teresa went about finding a way to help her dad. That’s when she discovered Operation Recognition. After contacting the school district and filling out some forms, it was set up. When she told her father he was finally going to receive his high school diploma, she said, he had tears in his eyes. Teresa went the extra mile and also set him up for the Honor Flight.
    Going back to school after returning from the war would have been hard, Viola said, adding that the gesture by his daughter means the world to him.
    “I felt very humbled that I got the diploma,” he said. “I was very, very happy and very honored.”
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