Veteran finally grips diploma after 50 years

Donald Stanbro stands proud with his Gowanda High School diploma in hand.

GOWANDA — At 71 years of age, Donald Stanbro can now look back with one less regret. He is now a Gowanda Central School graduate through the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs’ Operation Recognition.

Operation Recognition awards veterans their high school diplomas if they were on active duty for at least one day during World War II, the Korean War, or in Vietnam. They also must have been honorably discharged.

Stanbro, once learning this, contacted the Gowanda Board of Education with the aspirations of getting a formal degree.

“It was pretty emotional; the whole process was pretty emotional,” Stanbro told the OBSERVER via phone. “I’ve always felt kind of embarrassed. I had gotten a GED, right out of the gate, probably before I would have graduated. But still, it is not a high school diploma.”

When Stanbro was in high school, his home life wasn’t too stable. His grandmother was his primary guardian, and with the difficulties at home on the rise and his life not going in a great direction, Stanbro’s options were limited.

However, some things in life are just one (car) door away.

“It deteriorated to a point where I had to leave,” Stanbro said. “The story goes real quickly where my grandmother … was in Olean. She parks and it just happens to be out in front of a Navy recruiting office.

“So she is gone, I walk in and I join the Navy. She comes back and I say, ‘Grandma, I joined the Navy,’ and obviously, her eyes got real big and it sucked a lot of air out of her for a little bit.”

The four-year veteran now lives in Canton, Ohio, and has for 50 years. It doesn’t matter that his accomplishment took 50 years — it’s an achievement that makes him stand tall and proud.

“I think it’s awesome,” Stanbro said of Operation Recognition. “I wish I could thank whoever came up with the idea. It’s one of those better things that came down the pike. The way it has been handled through Gowanda, it was just first class.”

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