FREDERICK — Billy Joe Dill was just a few months away from high school graduation, but that was irrelevant.
Winter had come. Dill was 17½. It was time to leave.
“I had to go into the United States Marine Corps,” he said. “The war was going on. It was World War II. They needed bodies.”
Dill left his hometown of Frederick in December 1944 and was stationed as a gunner aboard the USS Chicago in the Pacific. He served with honor until the war ended. He came home in 1946. He got married, became a father and worked as a mechanic.
But Thursday night, Dill got to finish what he started.
The 85-year-old received his diploma from Frederick High School along with the graduating class of 2013. It was enough to nearly make him cry.
“It was pretty neat,” he said. “It was 68 years since I would have graduated. It's quite a deal.”
Dill received his diploma through the Oklahoma Veterans' High School Diploma Program, which allows local school districts to give diplomas to veterans who left high school early to serve in World War II, the Korean War or in the Vietnam War.
The recognition Thursday night was a surprise to Dill. Principal Randy Biggs made sure Dill would attend by telling him the football players really wanted him to go.
Dill has been a longtime volunteer with the school, particularly with the sports program, Biggs said. Dill still moves the chains on the sidelines of football games.
“He's an old Marine and he's a tough fella,” Biggs said, “He's just got a way about him. The kids love him to death. And they know it's sincere on his side, too.”
The graduation ceremony was special for Dill's family, said his son, Rusty Dill. He said he appreciates that veterans like his dad can be honored in this way.
“It was fantastic,” Rusty Dill said. “There wasn't a dry eye in the place.”