World War II Veteran Will Walk In Hillsborough High School Graduation After Missing His Own In 1943

May 24, 2019

A 95 year-old World War II veteran will walk across the stage Saturday at Hillsborough High School's graduation ceremony to finally receive his diploma in person.

Joe Perricone was halfway through his senior year at Hillsborough High in February 1943 when he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II. He remembers asking a member of his draft board if he could defer until after graduation.

"He patted me on the head and said, ‘You be a good boy, you got your diploma,’" said Perricone.

The diploma was mailed to his mother while Perricone served in Europe. He returned to Tampa after the war, and according to his grandson, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Tom Palermo, spent years telling his family about how he missed out on the ceremony.

"Which incidentally emphasized to the rest of us the importance of getting to graduate and successfully graduating from school,” Palermo said.

Palermo and his family worked with Hillsborough High School to get his grandfather the experience he should have had more than 75 years ago.

“It means a lot to us that someone we love very much will finally live out his dream,” said Palermo.

Joe Perricone visited the school for the first time since his teenage years on Wednesday to pick up his graduation materials in the auditorium.

Principal Gary Brady presented him with a red cap and gown, as well as this year's senior class shirt, a black t-shirt that said "Seniors" designed like the logo from the cartoon Rugrats.

Hillsborough High School Principal Gary Brady presents Joe Perricone with his graduation materials.
Credit Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media

“How about that?...I never thought I’d get one of these,” remarked Perricone, as he held up the cap and tassel, which had a charm reading “2019” dangling on the end.

Brady also showed him the diploma he will receive, but held onto that, as Perricone won’t get to take it home until he accepts it on stage with the rest of the graduating class Saturday.

“I'm glad it's finally coming around, and I'm glad I'm finally going to have a cap and gown,” said Perricone, who remained modest and kept a sense of humor about the experience most of the afternoon at the high school.

Perricone got serious for one moment, as he offered some advice to his younger fellow graduates.

"I'll tell them they're not boys and girls any more once they get that diploma, they're ladies and men,” he said.

“Whatever you decide to do, do the best you can, plus ten percent.”

Perricone will receive his diploma on stage like the students, but will be honored first before the rest of the names are read. His tassel may say 2019, but his family has outfitted a special sign for his walker: Class of 1943. 

A copy of Hillsborough High School's Class of 1943 yearbook, which is filled with references to World War II.
Credit Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media