Vietnam Veteran earns high school diploma 50 years later -, GA News Weather & Sports

Vietnam Veteran earns high school diploma 50 years later

(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)

For Bennie Bell it's one for the wall, a high school diploma.

Some 50 years ago, Bell had no choice but to drop out of school to care for his family and was later drafted in the Vietnam War. With those series of events, Bell left any chance of finishing school at Selma High School.

Bell eventually earned his GED but no official diploma. That all changed for Bell two months ago.

"It was an exciting feeling to get that," Bell said.

Bell received his diploma and walked with the 2014 graduating class at Selma High School in May.

James Washington is making sure veterans in similar situations get that opportunity in Autauga County. Uncle Sam often called students who attended the three primary high schools at the time in Autauga County.

"When they came back they never went back to get their high school diploma," said Washington who is the head of the National Association for Black Veterans.

The program is actually called the 'High School Diplomas for World War Two, Korean War and Vietnam War Veterans,' House Bill 74 passed by the Alabama legislature.

Autauga County Public School Superintendent, Spence Agee, is very much on board with the idea.

"I am 100% behind it," Agee said. "They need to fill out an application and show proof of being in the military which is their DD214 records."

Agee says veterans can pick up an application at the Autauga County School Board office at 153 West Fourth Street in Prattville. The application must be submitted no later than September 1.

County school leaders say they have no idea how many veterans are out there who would like to have their high school diploma. Not all of them earned a GED, which is not a necessary requirement, but regardless of the number, the Autauga County school district is ready.

"I hope we have a lot," Agee said. "This is also our way of saying 'thank you' for your sacrifice and service to our country."

James Washington says as far as he knows, the Selma city school district is the only school system so far to award veterans with a diploma. Autauga County appears to be next in line with graduation, of course, set for next spring.

At 70-years-old, Bennie Bell often wondered through the years whether he would ever receive a document that so many take for granted.

Not anymore.

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