$9 kept WWII vet from getting H.S. diploma for 70 years

LORAIN, Ohio A World War II veteran received his Ohio high school diploma this month more than seven decades after he joined the Navy to avoid graduating because he was embarrassed that he couldn't afford a $9 suit for the ceremony.

Leonard Puma
Leonard Puma holds his diploma in an undated photo
The (Elyria) Chronicle-Telegram

Leonard Puma, of McKeesport, Pa., didn't share his disappointment over not getting his diploma until this year, long after he ended his career as a union leader in the Pittsburgh area.

"The only thing I regret is that I never went to 12th grade," he said.

Puma, 88, failed in his first attempt to reach school officials at his old district in Lorain, west of Cleveland, but his daughter followed up with the school.

"Here he was, a labor union leader, and he never shared this with anyone," said his daughter, Lisa Puma, of Alexandria, Va. "It always bothered him that he never received it."

Puma served as president of Ironworkers Local No. 3 near Pittsburgh and later was business manager of the Pittsburgh Building and Construction Trade Councils.

Lorain schools Superintendent Tom Tucker told The (Elyria) Chronicle-Telegram that such requests have become less frequent.

"We got it done pretty fast," Tucker said. "The school board signed it, and we sent it out along with an old photograph of the high school."

Lisa Puma said her father was shocked when his family surprised him with the diploma.

"He thought it was a dead end," she said. "But he was very humbled and appreciative. Let's face it, he's not going to use it to get into college at 88 years old. He just needed to have closure."


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