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After 7 Decades, 88-Year-Old Veteran Officially Graduates

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(credit: CBS) Reg Chapman
Reg Chapman joined WCCO-TV in May of 2009. He came to WCCO fr...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – At 88 years old, Don Johnson feels like he has a hole in his heart due to not being able to walk across the stage with his graduating class in 1943.

But his focus quickly changed as he went from student to marine, fighting in the South Pacific during World War II.

69 years later, Minneapolis Police Sergeant Jesse Garcia ran into Johnson.

“He was walking out and I saw his hat and it said ‘World War II Vet’. I stopped him, wanted to say thank you,” said Sgt. Garcia

But Garcia didn’t stop there.

“I asked him where he served. He said the South Pacific, and talked about what direction that was going in, and asked him where he was from he said ‘south Minneapolis – and a proud graduate of Roosevelt High School,’” said Garcia.

“Three days before graduation principal called into the office handed him his diploma and he was off to the South Pacific.”

So Garcia began working his sources.

“I told him I never walked across the stage, and he said ‘we’ll fix that,’” said Don.

He went to the Principal Michael Bradley to ask if Johnson could fulfill a dream by walking with the class of 2012.

“Our motto here is ‘Enter to learn, leave to serve.’ Mr. Johnson embodies this,” said Bradley.

Michael Bradley invited Johnson to speak with the class he would walk with, 69 years after he graduated.

“Wow, what an honor to graduate with a class finally,” said Don.
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“For the students, we have today to appreciate a student from our past and more importantly for that student from our past to come to know and appreciate the students we have today,” said Bradley.

The students listened to his story, and overwhelmingly decided that he could share in their special day.

“It’s still an honor of them letting me graduate with them,” he said.

After four years in the Marine Corp, working construction for 40 years and being retired for 20, Johnson finally gets to wear a cap and gown.

“Well, I finally get to kinda make it official,” said Don.

He was treated like any other graduate, until the end when he was the last one to walk across the stage.

“I can’t believe that this is now finally happening to me!” he said.

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