World War II vet, 99, graduates high school alongside his great-granddaughter

A World War II veteran who was drafted before finishing high school walked in a long-deserved graduation ceremony on Saturday – with his great-granddaughter following him.

West Virginia resident Charles Bird, 99, received his Clay County High School diploma through the Operation Recognition Program (ORP). The program, run by the West Virginia Board of Education and the West Virginia Veterans’ Council, gives the opportunity for soldiers who served honorably during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War to receive their high school diplomas.

Pictures show Bird beaming in a cap and gown at the ceremony while his great-granddaughter, Ashdon Salisbury, was wearing the same regalia.

Donna Salisbury, Bird’s daughter, told Fox News Digital that her father still has an excellent memory and vividly recalls dates and places related to his service. Growing up, she would hear lots of stories about his experiences both in the military and in high school.

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Ashdon Salisbury, 17, graduated at the same time as her great-grandfather – despite the eight-decade age difference. (Donna Salisbury / Allen Tanner)

“He told me about how hard it was to go to school before school buses were used,” she recalled. “He had to bum a ride or catch the Greyhound to get the 20-plus miles to the high school.”

“[After being drafted], he was scared,” she added. “To have never been more than a hundred miles away from home, and now he was headed across the ocean.”

Salisbury, who adopted Ashdon and is both her grandmother and mother, called the graduation “one of the most proud moments of my life.” She shared that Bird felt honored by the occasion.

“He never dreamed he would get his diploma,” Salisbury said.

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Charles Bird, 99, graduated from Clay County High School on May 18. (Donna Salisbury)

The proud daughter also mentioned that her father is an 80-year member of the United Mine Workers labor union. He was recognized by the organization earlier in 2024.

“He was given a pin this year and they had to design and make it because no one else ever made it that long,” she said. “He worked in the coal mines for 38 years.”

Ashdon Salisbury told Fox News Digital that she was “very proud” of Bird’s service in World War II. The 17-year-old also shared that her classmates got a kick out of it.

“My classmates think that is a very cool and unique thing to happen at our graduation,” she said.

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Donna Salisbury said that watching her daughter and father graduate high school was “one of the proudest moments” of her entire life. (Donna Salisbury)

The 17-year-old plans to study at BridgeValley Community and Technical College to become an ultrasound technician, she said. She said that she looks up to her grandfather for being so hard-working.

“He worked so hard in life and he is the most deserving person to be able to graduate at his age,” Ashdon explained.

Clay County High School principal Allen Tanner told Fox News Digital that he hopes Bird’s story gets the recognition it deserves.

Charles Bird was “scared” when he was taken out of high school to serve in World War II, Donna shared. (Donna Salisbury)

“I am honored to play a small role in Mr. Bird’s graduation,” Tanner said. “He is part of a generation of heroes who fought for my freedom, and I am excited that, through the Operation Recognition Program, we were able to give him what was long overdue.”

For more Lifestyle articles, visit www.foxnews.com/lifestyle.

Andrea Vacchiano is a breaking news writer for Fox News Digital and Fox Business. You can follow her on X at @andrea_vacch or send story tips to [email protected].

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