Mike Allen, and his grandfather, Rusty Leigh, will graduate from the Johnsburg Central School Saturday, June 23.
Vietnam War veteran Rusty Leigh will receive his high school diploma from the Johnsburg Central School alongside his grandson, Michael Allen, this weekend.
Three generations of military personnel will be celebrating this Saturday. Not only is Leigh a veteran, but Allen plans on enlisting in the U.S. Army after graduation. Allen’s father, Matthew Allen of North River, is currently serving as an Army National Guard medic in Afghanistan and will be home on leave to watch the ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 23.
Leigh joined the U.S. Navy in 1961, cutting his sophomore year of high school short. He spent three and a half years in the Navy working on nuclear-powered submarines, first in New London, Conn., and then aboard the USS Holland. Though he passed a high school equivalency exam shortly after enlisting,
Leigh never had the chance to formally complete his high school education.
Under New York state’s “Operation Recognition” program, veterans who dropped out of high school to serve in the military are eligible to receive local diplomas from their schools. The program originally applied only to World War II veterans, though it was eventually expanded to include those who served in Korea, and finally Vietnam. Eligibility for Vietnam veterans was added only recently; it took effect this past May.
This was perfect timing for Leigh, who is “tickled pink” to be walking across Johnsburg’s stage with his grandson. Though a grandfather graduating with his grandchild seems uncommon, it’s something of a tradition in Leigh’s family. His brothers, Howard and Joe, walked alongside their granddaughters under “Operation Recognition” as well.
Allen shares his grandfather’s enthusiasm and feels their relationship is growing stronger as they prepare to receive their diplomas together.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Allen said. “Graduating from high school is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and getting to graduate with your grandfather is pretty special.”
The fact that his father is coming home for the event ices the metaphorical cake. His family wasn’t sure if Matt Allen was going to make it home, and they didn’t receive confirmation until recently.
Leigh is grateful for this opportunity, but he wishes “Operation Recognition” was more well-known. He heard about it through the school newsletter and wonders how many veterans who don’t receive the newsletter may be eligible without realizing it.
All a veteran needs to do is bring proof of their service to their local high school. More information about “Operation Recognition” can be found at veterans.ny.gov.