As a teenager in the Bronx in the 1940s, Edward J. Schaum couldn’t wait to join the Army.
After leaving high school to work for a telephone company, that’s what he did once he turned 18, eventually serving in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. But later in life, the Commack resident said he regretted never graduating from high school.
“He used to make jokes about it, you know, ‘Not bad for an eighth-grade graduate,’” said Susan Felberbaum, Schaum’s daughter. “At the time, school wasn’t important to him but I guess as he got older, he realized it was a shame he never got [his diploma].”
That changed Wednesday night when Schaum, 91, received a diploma from the Commack School District in a surprise ceremony.
Schaum thought he came to the Commack Board of Education meeting to watch his daughter receive a certificate for her service to the district, where she works as a library staff member at Burr Intermediate School. He was shocked to learn he was the one being honored.
“I don’t believe this,” Schaum said with a laugh.
As he came forward to receive his diploma from Commack High School Principal Leslie Boritz, Felberbaum watched with tears in her eyes, remarking that this was “probably the last thing on his bucket list.”
“Unbelievable,” Schaum said after the ceremony, which was held at the Hubbs Administration Building in East Northport. “And a definite honor.”
Felberbaum and her 27-year-old son, Robert, and other family members came to celebrate Schaum’s achievement.
Boritz called Wednesday’s ceremony “a beautiful event that honors both his service to our country and his desire to complete this important step.”
Schaum enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 1944 and was stationed in France, Germany, Hungary and Japan while serving as a rifleman until May 1946.
Felberbaum, 60, of Commack, said her father loved his time in the Army, and wanted to help civilians feel safe during the war. He received two Bronze Stars and several other victory medals for his service, Felberbaum said.
After his service, he briefly worked at a Bronx roller rink before becoming a New York City bus driver. He has three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
In the spring, Felberbaum learned about Operation Recognition, a New York State program that allows World War II, Korean War and Vietnam Era veterans who left school early to receive their high school diplomas.
Felberbaum reached out to members of the Commack School District, and thought they might “just print out a diploma and give it to” her father, she said.
“It’s very emotional for us,” Felberbaum said earlier Wednesday. “At this point in his age, you know, there aren’t that many more things left for him to accomplish, and I think this will be a big accomplishment for him.”