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Titus honors veterans with belated diplomas

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Twenty veterans from southern Queens who fought in World War II or the Korean War were presented with diplomas from John Adams and Far Rockaway high schools Friday at a special graduation ceremony organized by state Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway).

"We stand on the shoulders of so many veterans who let us live in a country of freedom," said Patrick Jenkins, a representative for U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans). "High school diplomas for the young men and women who left school to defend our country is a small token but an important one indeed."

The ceremony at the St. Albans Veterans Hospital Friday was part of Operation Recognition, a state initiative started two years ago to award high school diplomas to veterans of World War II and the Korean War who left school to enlist, Titus said.

"You were willing to travel far away and put their lives on the line if necessary to protect us," she said.

Veterans who provided proof that they were honorably discharged from service were eligible for the program, Titus said. Diplomas were awarded from John Adams High School in Ozone Park or Far Rockaway High School. Many of the vets would have gone to those schools based on where they are living now, but the schools also agreed to provide degrees for those veterans who were originally from outside the area, Titus said.

Among the 20 men honored was Titus' own grandfather, Randolph Titus, although the fact he did not receive his diploma before he died several years ago was not the impetus behind the program, Titus said.

"I personally cannot recall a moment of my grandfather where he was not relaxing in his chair, smoking a pipe and reading," she said. "He was always surrounded by his books. He was a proud, self-taught man who worked hard so his children could have more."

One of Titus' staff members, Martha Taylor Butler, also had a family member among the graduates. Maj. Sam Taylor Jr., a Merchant Marine, received a diploma from John Adams.

"When I was in elementary school, I remember my father would be away a lot of the time," she said. "He always told us to get our education. It wasn't until I was grown and married before I realized that my father didn't even have his diploma."

The veterans and their families were pleased with the ceremony and the new diplomas, which were presented in a standing glass frame.

"It was a beautiful ceremony," said John Olsen, a sailor in the Korean War now living in South Ozone Park. "I've been waiting for this for 55 years. I had just begun high school and I finished my education in the military."

Others, like Robert Pandone and his brother-in-law Vincent Verderosa, who both received diplomas Friday, were glad their sacrifices were remembered. Pandone was a soldier with the 88th Infantry "Blue Devils" in World War II, while Verderosa was in the Navy.

"They didn't forget us," Pandone said.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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