It took him over 70 years to do it, but World War II veteran Billy Mills has earned his high school diploma.
“I goofed up and did not get it. It was all my fault,” Mills told ABC 13 about neglecting to get his degree.
Mills admits to failing English by “like one and a half credits,” but he was drafted into the Army before he could make them up.
Before he was drafted in 1944, Mills was a carefree student at Galena Park High School in Texas. A member of the football team, the 18-year-old was focused on girls – he admits to a crush on a girl named Wanda Lee Huffman – building cars and finding “other things to do” besides schoolwork.
But he grew up fast after “Uncle Sam said come on,” he says.
Months after he was drafted into the Army, Mills was deployed to the Southeast Pacific. He served two years as a telegraph operator and diligently wrote love letters home to Wanda, but he never got the chance to make up his English credit.
After returning home from war, Mills wed his high school crush Wanda, and the pair raised five children together while he maintained a successful career in the oil industry.
But his daughter Denice Mills knew he was still holding on to his high school regret.
“It bothered him all these years that he never got his diploma,” she said.
Denice reached out to the Galena Park Independent School District on her father’s behalf and they called the veteran in to complete paper work.
A few weeks later, Mills stood in front of the district board meeting in a cap and gown and finally accepted his diploma.
More than seven decades after attending high school, the 89-year-old is the oldest graduate in the district’s history. His family, who proudly watched Monday’s ceremony, is “very happy for him” Denice shared.
As for Mills, he plans to keep his hard-earned diploma by his bed where he can see it every morning and night.
And the veteran has important advice for today’s high school dropouts: “You’re nuts. Stay in there, apply yourself and get that diploma,” he insisted.