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WWII veteran gets Long Beach High School diploma at age 89

Rudolph "Rudy" Lantelme, 89, a U.S. Navy veteran

Rudolph "Rudy" Lantelme, 89, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, fulfilled a years-old wish to receive his high school diploma from Long Beach High School -- 71 years after the rest of the graduating class of 1945 -- on Friday, June 24, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

World War II Navy veteran Rudolph “Rudy” Lantelme holds three degrees, is a father of four, has one grandchild and worked in two different fields — as a teacher and an X-ray technician — over the decades.

The only thing missing in his life, the 89-year-old Goshen resident said, was his diploma from Long Beach High School. He enlisted in the military in his senior year and didn’t graduate with his class in 1945.

That changed Friday evening, when Lantelme joined nearly 300 Long Beach High School seniors at the Class of 2016’s commencement ceremony, held on Veterans Field at Lido Beach Middle School. The crowd of graduates, parents and educators gave him a standing ovation as Acting Principal Francine Newman awarded the diploma.

Lantelme, wearing a blue cap and gown and a high school medal around his neck, told them, “I’ve always felt there was something still missing . . . And I believe because of your kindness, those feelings will at last be satisfied.”

He was accompanied to the ceremony by his sister, Yvonne Forrest of East Rockaway, and two of his sons, Brian Lantelme of the Bronx and David Lantelme of Brooklyn.

Born in St. Augustine, Florida, Lantelme moved with his family to Long Beach when he was a child. He was 17 when he joined the Navy, and his father had to give permission because of his age.

He went to radio operator school and was assigned to a destroyer in the Pacific. When the war ended in 1945, he returned to the East Coast and was assigned to the aircraft carriers USS Midway and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Lantelme was discharged before he turned 21 and took entrance exams to get into college. He was accepted at the University of Scranton, where he studied pre-med. He married his wife, Anne, and was salutatorian of his Scranton graduating class.

He taught high school science in a small school near Utica while taking graduate courses in guidance at Syracuse University. He worked as a guidance counselor in the Newburgh school district for four years and then the Monroe-Woodbury district until 1985, when he retired from teaching.

Next, Lantelme enrolled in a two-year program in radiologic technology at Westchester Community College. He became certified and administered X-rays for 22 years. He and his wife lived in New Windsor for 50 years before moving to Goshen. Anne Lantelme died in 2011.

A few years ago, Lantelme was visiting the Long Beach Public Library and came across his high school yearbook. Several of his classmates who had enlisted but missed graduation had received so-called “war diplomas,” but “my name was not listed,” he said.

He penned a letter to school officials asking if he could graduate with this year’s class.

Long Beach Superintendent David Weiss said the district has awarded veterans diplomas in the past under a program known as “Operation Recognition.”

According to the state Education Department, certain veterans who left high school without graduating are eligible to earn high school diplomas. Operation Recognition, created by Section 305 of New York’s education law, recognizes the devotion and sacrifice of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam-era veterans who left school early by presenting them with a high school diploma.

“The whole purpose of Operation Recognition, at least for older veterans, is an acknowledgement of both their service and their link to the community,” Weiss said. “We are very happy to do that.”

Lantelme was appreciative.

“It’s the fulfillment of a wish and I am extremely grateful,” he said.

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