NEW YORK — Over the past week, thousands of high school students in Western New York have gathered for unique celebrations during the pandemic to reflect on the past 4 years.
But for one man on Grand Island, walking across the stage was 75 years in the making and created a touching moment with his grandson that brought on my many cheers and a few tears.
“I’m so lucky to have a great father and an outstanding son,” said Jeff Richard, the son of Warren and father of Ben.
93-year-old Warren Richard’s journey to this day started many years ago.
Warren never finished high school.
He left Western New York in 1945 to fight in World War II.
“I was only 18 so you know, an 18-year-old kid going off on your own. It’s pretty scary and was lonely and you miss people, you know. Especially, when you came home on furlough and then you had to go back. It was pretty emotional,” explained Warren.
Memories of the war are painted permanently in his mind, all these years later.
As a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne, Warren was one of the first American soldiers to occupy Japan after the country surrendered.
“Being away from home, walking in the middle of the night in below zero temperatures on Christmas Eve, things like that. It was good times too with companionship and buddies and stuff,” said Warren.
News 4 sat down with Warren a few days before his high school graduation.
He told us he returned after the war to finish his GED, but he never received his prized high school diploma.
Back in that day, Grand Island High School didn’t even exist.
He took classes at McKinley High School before he was drafted.
Warren’s able to receive his diploma from Grand Island thanks to New York’s ‘Operation Recognition’ program, which allows vets, who left high school early, to graduate.
Even in his 90’s, he’s still looking to the future.
“I got to get that on my resumes in case I want a job,” joked Warren.
We asked Warren what kind of job he might look for.
“One where I can sit down,” laughed Warren.
In all seriousness, he’s grateful for the opportunity… as they say, age is just a number.
“I’m the oldest person I guess to graduate from Grand Island High School… it’s an honor!” explained Warren.
For Warren, it’s an honor all the sweeter.
His youngest grandson, Ben, shares the spotlight with him.
But it almost didn’t happen.
Ben is lucky to be alive today.
He was a passenger in a car crash that happened in May.
His injuries are life altering.
“I’m hoping to hug him… but with the pandemic I guess I can’t do that,” as Warren explained through his tears, “it’s though knowing that he’s in the condition he’s in and he still doesn’t have any feeling in his legs so what does the future hold? We don’t know. It’s disturbing not knowing what it’s going to be like.”
Ben doesn’t show any fear of the unknown, just like his grandfather when he fought for our freedom, 75 years ago.
“I still have some things on my bucket list that I want to get done,” said Ben Richard.
Sunday was Ben’s first time out of the hospital since May 9th.
He was only allowed out for four hours.
He said it’s nerve racking and painful.
It hurts to sit up in his wheelchair, but he’s pushing through.
He’s thankful to share this day with his hero.
“He’s been a big role model my whole life. He’s always been there for me, baseball games and all sorts of stuff. So it’s kind of great that we can do this,” said Ben.
Their journeys may be separated by decades and vast life experiences, but they both share something similar; determination.
They’ve overcome adversity — during war, injury and a pandemic — to get here.
For the two, it’s a moment frozen in time, signifying accomplishment.
Warren, the wise warrior, shares an important message.
“If you haven’t finished school go back and do it because it’s your future and you need a good education to survive in this world,” said Warren.
Warren says with that, perseverance and a little love, you can survive anything.
News 4 caught a touching moment on camera that shows the love between the two.
“Love you, Ben,” said Warren.
Ben: “Love you, too.”
Warren: “You take good care, do what you’re told and I’m sure you’ll recover, ok?”
Ben: “Yes, sir.”
Warren: “we’re rooting for ya”!
Ben still has a long road to recovery.
You can help contribute to his medical expenses here.