Paul Mercier was just 17 and a high school junior when he tagged along with a friend who was visiting a recruiter to sign up for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Even though it was 1964 and the country was in the middle of the Vietnam War, Mercier liked what he heard and signed on the dotted line. A short time later he shipped out for boot camp.
“I saw Japan and Hawaii. It was a good experience,” Mercier said, adding his first assignment was on the West Coast. Mercier said he volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1966 while he was still serving in Japan.
After four years in the service, Mercier was honorably discharged. He was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal and was recognized for M-14 rifle marksmanship.
Mercier returned home and was working a menial job at a gas station when a customer told him the U.S. Postal Service was hiring and recommended he apply. He was hired and remained there for 40 years.
Mercier married, and he and his wife Linda moved to Monson. They raised two children and he continued to work for the U.S. Postal Service until he retired. But one thing was always missing.
Until last week, when Mercier, now 75, was granted a Chicopee Comprehensive High School diploma under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Operation Recognition program, which awards wartime veterans who left high school to join the military their diplomas. As long as they were honorably discharged, even those who later earned their GEDs are still eligible for the program.
“Education is important. I could see later in life that having a diploma could have helped,” Mercier said. “I never needed it for the post office but I studied, took tests and passed to move ahead.”
During the ceremony July 20 at City Hall, Stephanie Shaw, the Chicopee veterans services director, explained that Mercier was also being awarded a Graduates to Guardians challenge coin, which is given to Chicopee high school students leaving for the military at their graduation.
“Mr. Mercier deserves credit for selfless service and at such a young age. He ran to meet the fight so far from home,” Shaw said. “How proud I am to meet you and I honor you.”
When interim Superintendent Alvin Morton awarded Mercier his diploma the School Committee gave him a standing ovation.
“I want to thank you for your service to this country, to the city of Chicopee and to all the people in Chicopee public schools,” Morton said.
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