For decades, 91-year-old Salvatore G. Bologna shared tales from his storied life, from guarding prisoners of war and getting stabbed as a police officer to delivering six babies in a patrol car and working security in the World Trade Center.
Sunday, the Melbourne resident found a perfect storybook ending to a long, unfinished narrative when he received his high school diploma — seven decades after leaving for the military — in front of friends and family in a community room in Melbourne, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Bologna said, adorned in a black cap and graduation gown, and beaming with a smile as he was handed the official document noting the achievement from Grover Cleveland High School in New York.
The Melbourne resident was 19 years old and living in New York when he received a letter inducting him into the U.S. Army. The year was 1945, just months before World War II came to an end.
Before leaving for service, the first-generation Italian-American talked to an enlisting officer who told him that the school had agreed to give him his diploma once he returned from the military.
He never got it, something that was a revelation to his 22-year-old granddaughter, Cathryn Bologna.
“We heard all of these stories about when he was a police officer, but I only learned in April that he never got his diploma. That was a surprise to me,” said Cathryn, who immediately worked with her brother Aleks to investigate the possibility of obtaining the document.
“And as someone studying education, I knew this was something that I had to do for him.”
Cathryn contacted U.S. Rep. Bill Posey’s office and school officials to see if the promise made all those years ago could be fulfilled for her grandfather, now retired. Sunday, a surprise ceremony was set up to carry out that promise. With family members looking on, an emotional Bologna stepped up to the front of the room. Then it came.
“They found your high school diploma,” said Rob Medina, a longtime representative for the U.S. congressman, handing over the diploma.
Salvatore E. Bologna, Bologna’s son, said his father’s life story is one of triumph over adversity, recounting how his father was so poor as a child he wore shoes lined with cardboard.
And despite not receiving his diploma, he pointed out that his father was able to join the New York Police Department in 1955 thanks to a sympathetic officer – and veteran – screening applicants. What his father showed everyone was that "you don’t need a high school diploma to get ahead, just perseverance and prevail.”
After two decades on the police force, the senior Bologna worked at an investment firm in the World Trade Center. He later worked at the U.S. Post Office in Brooklyn and the U.S. Customs Service.
One of the stories family members bandied about was how Bologna also helped in a federal corruption case that netted up to 15 people.
Later he moved to Brevard County and got a job, eventually working security at Patrick Air Force Base. He also put two children through college, working three jobs. The payoff came with having a strong family and regaling them with stories of his time patrolling the streets.
Bologna was humbled by Sunday’s presentation and now has another story to tell, said his wife Rita.
“He’s just ecstatic, all of my married life I’ve been hearing about how he didn’t get his diploma,” she said.
“This is just wonderful.”