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Overdue honor

Guilderland veteran receives his high school diploma 50 years later

Robert Lynch stands outside his Guilderland home holding the high school diploma he was awarded by Guilderland Central School District through Operation Recognition.

Robert Lynch stands outside his Guilderland home holding the high school diploma he was awarded by Guilderland Central School District through Operation Recognition. Photo by John Purcell.

— Many Vietnam veterans faced a less-than-welcoming reception upon returning from the battlefield. One local veteran simply summed up his return as “lousy.”

“People were yelling at you, screaming at you and spitting at you when I came home,” said Robert Lynch, a Guilderland resident and Vietnam veteran. “One of my friends got spit at in the airport.”

Lynch, though, was somewhat prepared for the treatment, because at base camp before departure he was told he would be sent home in uniform and should “expect to be treated like dirt.”

“We were called baby killers and things like that,” Lynch said.

That treatment was opposite to what the 69-year-old veteran received Tuesday, May 28, at a Guilderland Board of Education meeting where he received two standing ovations. Lynch was there for something many people experience decades earlier: receiving a high school diploma.

He admitted he didn’t expect for the diploma ceremony to move him as much as it did. After returning to his seat, with his diploma in hand, he wiped a tear off his face.

“I thought it was very nice,” he said. “Over 25 people walked up congratulated me. I was shocked.”

About two years ago, Lynch found out about the state’s Operation Recognition program, which allows veterans to earn high school diplomas if they didn’t graduate from high school. The state Education Law allows World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans who left school to apply. Veterans must be a state resident with a satisfactory discharge and provide certain documentation.

In February, he contacted the school district about receiving a diploma.

“I just felt like it was something I missed and something I figured I do, because I wanted it,” he said.

Guilderland High School Principal Thomas Lutsic said he was honored to present Lynch his diploma and commended him for his service.

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