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Army veteran receives high school diploma at 83

U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran Billy F. Garretson received his high school diploma at the RCBOE meeting April 23. (Raleigh County Schools/Facebook)

Before completing his senior year of high school in Beckley, Billy F. Garretson left to join the U.S. Army, serving from 1958 to 1964.

Though he graduated from a military academy, worked as a minister for decades and earned other educational certificates, a high school diploma always eluded him.

That was until Tuesday, when, at 83, Garretson was awarded a high school diploma from Raleigh County Schools during a school board meeting.

U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran Billy F. Garretson received his high school diploma at the RCBOE meeting April 23. (Raleigh County Schools/Facebook)

Garretson said he was honored by the gesture and humbled to be able to share the moment with his family, some of whom also have high school diplomas from Raleigh County Schools.

“It’s such an honor for the Veterans Administration to take care of this,” he said. “I wanted to have that last diploma because . I’d finished 11 years, and I wanted that last year. And they said if went into service before (graduation) that they had a form, and I remember, and so they filled it out and everything and that’s what got me here. They’re taken care of people that didn’t have a chance.”

Garretson’s service was also recognized by Del. Christopher Toney, a bus driver for Raleigh County Schools, who read a statement of recognition on behalf of the State of West Virginia.

In his statement, Toney said Garretson’s sacrifice and service for his state and country “should serve as a model for those in Raleigh County, the state of West Virginia and beyond.”

Those words were echoed by a representative from Sen. Joe Manchin’s office, who presented Garretson with an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of Garretson.

Speaking to the Raleigh school board members and others gathered at the meeting, Garretson admitted to nearly being brought to tears by their words and actions.

“I want to thank the Board of Education of Raleigh County, the Veterans Association that set this up and … everyone that works in this board. I appreciate you so much, and thank you for all that you do,” he said.

While he was receiving his diploma and other recognitions, photos from his time in the Army were displayed on screens throughout the board room as well as a summary of his military service written in the words of Garretson’s grandson, Levi Eric Garretson.

“My grandpa Bill Garretson joined the Army to serve this country in 1958 through 196(4),” Levi writes. “He was inducted into the army in Beckley, WV one day and was on his way to catch a train the next morning at Prince train station taking him to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.”

From Missouri, Garretson was sent to training in Fort Hood, Texas, where he spent 16 weeks before being sent with thousands of other soldiers to Germany.

“While on his way through the English Channel, he remembers the ship ramming into another large ship because the fog is so very thick there,” Levi wrote. “Everything was topsy-turvy for a while, but then they were safely on their way again. He said that possibly half of the ship was seasick the whole trip because of the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean in November 1958.”

In Germany, Garretson was stationed with the 36th Infantry Combat Command ‘A’ 3rd Armored Division. He attended the 7th Army NCO Academy in Bad Tolz, Germany, graduating with the rank of sergeant.

Levi wrote that his grandfather also joined the Army track and field team, running the mile and two-mile distances, and never finished a race worse than third place.

“He was in a track meet for all Army Europe, running against an Olympic class runner. He got beat and said, ‘You know I should have quit smoking them cancer sticks a long time ago,'” Levi wrote.

Garrettson’s military years took place at a time noted in the history books — the Vietnam War was ongoing, the Berlin Wall was built, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was taking place.

“He was in Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall was erected,” Levi wrote.

Due to ongoing conflict, Garretson’s time in Germany was extended, making his tour of duty there four years.

He left Germany in 1962 and served two years in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Garretson was in Georgia during the Cuban Missile Crisis and recalls everyone at the base keeping their weapons and equipment out for 24 hours while waiting for orders to act.

Levi wrote as part of his final remarks: “Time will not allow to tell of the many adventures he endured. But in closing, I would like to note that he was in Fort Benning, Georgia, taking training at the same time as Elvis Presley. Then, when he got to Germany, he was in the barracks building right beside of Elvis Presley’s building. His friend Lewis got a picture with him, but grandpa, being only 18 years old, was too embarrassed to ask for another. …

“Grandpa was 17 years old when he went in the Army in 1958, he is now 83 years old and living in Beckley, WV. Retired from General Motors and retired from The Pittston & Brinks Company. He has been a preacher now for 43 years.

“Thanks for the memories.”


(c) 2024 The Register-Herald

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