After 60 Years, Tennessee Korean War Era Veteran Receives Diploma

84-year-old William Duncan is one of thousands of Tennessee veterans eligible for honorary diplomas. Credit: Leah Terry/ WPLN

84-year-old William Duncan is one of thousands of Tennessee veterans eligible for honorary diplomas. Credit: Leah Terry/ WPLN

“It has been a dream for me for a long time,” William Duncan said shyly as he clutched a blue folder with an official seal on the outside. Today, Tennessee officials awarded the 84-year-old with an honorary high school diploma.

A little known state benefit made Duncan’s dream a reality. A 2010 Tennessee law allows honorably discharged veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War to request the diplomas.

Duncan never attended high school.  Instead, as one of fourteen children, he got a job at the General Shoe Company, later known as Genesco. Just as he began studying for the GED, his draft letter arrived.

Duncan's daughter Deborah said they would not be having a party, but the honoree lit up at the mention of a celebratory steak supper. Credit: Leah Terry/ WPLN

Duncan’s daughter, Deborah, said they would not be having a party, but the honoree lit up at the mention of a celebratory steak supper. Credit: Leah Terry/ WPLN

Despite a heart condition that should have made Duncan exempt from the military, the Tullahoma native served eight years stateside and was ultimately promoted to Corporal.

In the 1980’s, Duncan tried again to earn his GED, says his daughter Deborah, but he found the material too complicated to teach himself in his spare time. The family lawyer tipped her off to the new state program earlier this year.

According to Tennessee Department of Education only three or four veterans request an honorary diploma each year, though thousands are eligible.

Duncan says he plans to hang his diploma on the wall next to his daughter’s.

Leah Terry contributed to this report.

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