World War II veteran Joe Perricone will graduate from Hillsborough High School after 76 years of waiting
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He was almost done with high school when Uncle Sam called.
After 76 years, World War II veteran Joe Perricone returned to walk the halls of Hillsborough High School. Drafted halfway through his senior year, Perricone never had the chance to walk across the stage and get his high school diploma.
Perricone was supposed to graduate with the Class of 1943, but like many other students at the time, was interrupted by the United States (U.S.) involvement in Germany. “I wasn’t at my graduation because the draft board said, ‘you need to go out and serve your country so be a big boy,’” said 95-year-old Perricone.
At first, he was hesitant, asking a member of the draft board for a deferment until he could graduate. “I told them that I wished I’d been able to go out and graduate first, just get that diploma you know,” he said. While serving in Europe, the diploma was mailed to his mother.
After being drafted, Perricone completed his basic training in Florida as a combat engineer. At the age of 19, he traveled to Germany, and he stayed in Europe until the Japanese surrendered in 1945. While at Hillsborough, Perricone was on the track team. “Well I was in track and those were some of my fondest memories here,” he said. “I ran and I was in track and I loved all that kind of stuff.”
After he was drafted, he experienced a stark difference. Perricone never had trouble in school and recalled having many friends. However, his training experience was completed with much less ease than his time in high school. “I’ll tell you that none of us really knew what was going on. There were all kinds of rules and there were all these big bombs going off,’ he said. “At that age, you think you’re a big shot. But when they told me I was in the Army and they started giving me all these weapons, I just didn’t think too much about the graduation.”
“I lost a lot of buddies,” he recalled.
But his time in the Army wasn’t one he regretted. Despite his initial hesitation to leave without his high school diploma, once he was in Germany his concerns melted into the background. “I wasn’t upset that I was there. At that time, just about every boy that I came across was glad to be there,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I forgot about the cap and gown. I was kind of busy when I left.”
But on Wednesday, his long-awaited cap and gown were finally in his hands. Perricone, joined by his grandson Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Tom Palermo, met with Principal Gary Brady in the auditorium to receive his red cap and gown along with the 2019 senior shirts.
“I never thought I was going to graduate,” he said, laughing while looking at his tassel. “I’m glad that it’s finally coming around and I’m glad that I’m finally going to have a cap and gown.”
Brady also showed Perricone his diploma, but quickly put it away. “You’re going to have to wait until Saturday for that one,” Brady joked. Palermo and his family worked with Hillsborough High School to realize his grandfather’s dream 75 years later.
Perricone will walk across the stage to receive his diploma on Saturday May 25 at the Florida State Fairgrounds with the Class of 2019, who are eight decades his junior. “I’ll tell them that they’re not boys and girls anymore once they get that diploma, they’re ladies and men,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of them have thought about what they would like to do, what they want to do but my advice to the whole crowd is this: Do the best you can in whatever you decide, plus 10 percent.”