YALE, Okla. – A World War II veteran who put family and country before his own education received his high school diploma on Saturday.
Frank Bickell, 86, crossed the stage in the Yale High School gym along with 40 other, much younger graduates.
“I feel smarter,” Bickell said. “And I sure do appreciate it.”
Bickell dropped out of high school in the early 40s to get a job and help his parents, who still hadn’t recovered from the Great Depression.
Shortly after that, he got his draft card.
“At that point I just wasn’t able to graduate with the rest of the kids,” Bickell said.
Bickell’s time as a combat medic took him from France to Patton’s third army in the heart of Germany, where he helped liberate a concentration camp.
“That was a horrible mess. People were just skin and bones and starving to death,” Bickell said. “Some of them couldn’t get out of their beds.”
After the army Bickell took a steady job and started a family and before he knew it, a diploma just wasn’t as important as it used to be.
But the idea of getting his diploma did crop up from time to time.
Earlier this year one of his sons, Keith Bickell, decided it was time to help out dad.
“It’s something that he’s wanted and it’s about the only thing in life he’s wanted that he hasn’t got,” Keith said.
The government was more than willing to help out.
“[They told me] you made history and all and you are a part of history and that’s why the government is allowing you to get a diploma,” Bickell said.
In a bit of serendipity, Frank Bickell received his diploma on Saturday from Yale High School in northeast Oklahoma.
It’s the same school he would have graduated from in 1944 had he not dropped out and been drafted.
Students and staff at Yale embraced Bickell during the graduation ceremony.
His portrait made it into the graduation slide show along with those of the 40 graduating teenagers.
Each valedictorian also thanked Bickell for his service.
At the end of the ceremony, Bickell crossed the Yale stage with diploma in hand, proof on paper of the wisdom he’s garnered.
“I tell you what, whenever my kids ask me to do something anymore, I’m going to tell them no and stick with it,” Bickell said with a wry smile.
Frank Bickell and his wife live in Del City.
He said it’s a little late for college but he will take summer break and spend it the way he spends most days, watching westerns at home with his wife.