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Peekskill WWII Veteran Gets High School Diploma After 72 Years

John "Jack" Lancaster displays his high school diploma July 7 after ceremonies at the Peekskill Board of Education meeting as friend Jim Taylor, left, watches.
John "Jack" Lancaster displays his high school diploma July 7 after ceremonies at the Peekskill Board of Education meeting as friend Jim Taylor, left, watches. Photo Credit: Contributed

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- Longtime Peekskill resident John “Jack” Lancaster has finally received his high school diploma -- 72 years after he dropped out to serve in the Navy during World War II.

Lancaster was just 18 years old and four months shy of graduating when he left home in 1943.

While serving, Lancaster was awarded a Victory Medal, an American Theater Medal, and a European Theater Medal.

Now, thanks to the efforts of good friend Jim Taylor, Peekskill Schools Superintendent David Fine and the state’s Operation Recognition, he was able to celebrate one more milestone.

As family and friends watched at a ceremony held during the Peekskill Board of Education’s July 7 meeting, Lancaster got his prized piece of paper … and honored his fellow veterans.

Lancaster asked the crowd to remember four of his classmates from Peekskill High School’s Class of 1943 who were also called to serve during World War II, but who, sadly, never came home.

“I ask you that as you honor me today, that you also honor my classmates who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “Honor them by thinking about them in your hopes, your prayers and in your memory, because in my generation, they were heroes.”

“Thank you again for this,” Lancaster added. “You’ve made an old man very happy.”

Taylor, who works for the Peekskill Middle School’s LEAP program, was the one who reached out to school officials about Lancaster, according to Laura Belfiore, the district’s communication specialist.

Taylor thanked Fine for contacting Operation Recognition, which aids veterans who had to leave school before graduating.

“I know that it is very important to him to have this particular piece of paper that he missed out on because he got called out early,” said Taylor. “I thank the board of education for that and I thank Jack for being here to receive it.”

Fine said it was an “absolute joy and honor to be a part of recognizing Mr. Lancaster’s high school career.”

The school district is hoping to help other veterans who are in the same situation, the superintendent added.

“We’re in the process of working with other organizations in the area to find other Peekskill High School graduates who were called to duty before they could receive their degrees so we can help recognize them as well,” Fine said.

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