After 48 years, Vietnam veteran receives high school diploma

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published February 12, 2014

 Roseville Community Schools Superintendent John Kment presents Jerry Caparo, Vietnam War veteran, with his high school diploma during the school board meeting Feb. 3. Caparo had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966, before finishing high school.

Roseville Community Schools Superintendent John Kment presents Jerry Caparo, Vietnam War veteran, with his high school diploma during the school board meeting Feb. 3. Caparo had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966, before finishing high school.

Photo by Kevin Bunch

ROSEVILLE — Feb. 3, 2014, was an emotional day for Jerry Caparo.

The 66-year-old Roseville man received his high school diploma during the Roseville Community Schools Board of Education meeting from Superintendent John Kment, an event deferred when Caparo enlisted in the U.S. Army in June of 1966 as the Vietnam War raged.

“I went from high school when I was 17 years old, and that was when the draft was starting to pick up, and I figured, ‘Well, let me go ahead and join because then I could go ahead and pick out what I’d like to do,’” Caparo said. “But that didn’t work out anyway; they put you where they needed you.”

He found himself in Vietnam in 1967 and into 1968, flying in on a transport without any lights on at night. Caparo said they were told to run straight to the bus from the plane, and the bus itself did not engender any feeling of safety, with wires on the windows to prevent things from being thrown in.

While Caparo was scheduled to join one particular unit, the orders changed and he ended up spending some time waiting for different orders, which sent him to the 25th Infantry Division out of Dau Tieng. There, he was given the job of being in the lead truck of convoys shuttling from base camp to base camp.

“There were a few times when we got mortar attacked, and only being 17 years old, 18 years old, I was one scared chicken,” Caparo said. “But I have to thank the man that’s upstairs, because I made it back.”

Caparo’s work leading convoys took him across the country, including to Saigon. He eventually put in for a change of occupation to something safer near the end of his tour, becoming a cook at base camp when fighting was picking up.

While there, Caparo was awarded the Bronze Star in May of 1968. He also received medals for good conduct, combat service, and serving during the Tet Offensive when North Vietnamese forces attacked South Vietnamese and American bases in a surprise attack.

Upon returning to the U.S., he was stationed in Missouri in a special processing unit until he was discharged in 1970 at the rank of E-4 Specialist.

From there, Caparo worked for the Cadillac Motor Car Division for a while until he was laid off, and then he worked for Wellmation for another 30 years until the Great Recession. He has also been married to his wife, Patricia, for 45 years, and together they raised two girls, Pam and Angie, a boy, Jeffery, and six foster children, Patricia said.

He never had the opportunity to finally receive his deferred diploma until recently, when the Michigan Legislature took up a bill — Senate Bill 389 of 2013 — that entitled Vietnam veterans to receive their diplomas, if they did not finish high school to serve, like Caparo. When Caparo learned about the law while looking over, he kept a close eye on its progress.

“From that day on, we followed that number that was on there, and finally I saw that it had passed the Congress, passed the House, and put into effect,” he said. “And when I seen that, I said to my wife, ‘Look at this.’”

Following the bill’s passage into law in November, Caparo said he was unsure what his next step should be.

He ended up going to the Roseville school board, and the members were not only aware of the law, but had previously awarded a diploma to a World War II veteran, Caparo said. The board told him they could give him the diploma he missed out on decades ago.

“We have prepared a diploma for you exactly like the students receive,” Kment said during the Feb. 3 ceremony. “This is late, but it’s very, very important for us to give it to you.”

“It’s important for me to receive it,” Caparo said in response. “I waited a long time for it. When they told me I could go ahead and get it now, I was through the door.”

Kment noted that he and Caparo had gone to Osborn High School in Detroit together, and added that everyone on the board was very grateful for his service.

That support for his service was something Caparo said took him around 40 years to venture forth and encounter. He said one of his daughters works at L’Anse Creuse Middle School East in Chesterfield, and about four years ago, he finally accepted her request to come to the Veterans Day ceremony there at the behest of his grandson.

“It was the very first time that I felt welcomed home, because of the kids, and the principal there. They just honored everybody, and that was just unreal,” Caparo said. “It was just beautiful, and I will never ever forget that day.”

Since then, he has gone back each year, bringing some of his other Vietnam veteran friends with him each time. Caparo said he takes pride in being a veteran and serving his country, flying a flag at his home and helping other veterans. While they do not talk about the war much, and he said he still gets flashbacks and nightmares about it, he is happy with where he is now.

“I think about it quite a bit, but I’m 66 years old, and I did want to live my life to the fullest — to have fun. But sometimes, you just have to look at it a different way, I guess,” Caparo said. “But I am so happy I got my diploma now, and I’m home safe.”