NASHVILLE, Tenn. – More than five decades have passed since World War II, but a local high school has found a way to honor local Veterans who gave up everything, including their education to fight in a war halfway across the world.
"My dad was a part of the greatest generation but he passed away before anybody knew that," Pat Nolan said about his father Patrick Joseph Nolan, Junior.
At the age of 17, Patrick Nolan, Junior had to convince his parents to let him sign up to fight in the armed forces. He spent three years of his life defending his country in WWII.
"Those three years changed his life a lot, he really grew up a lot," his son said.
When Nolan went off to war he had to give up everything, including his education from Father Ryan High School in Nashville. Although he eventually returned home, he never returned back to get his degree.
"He wasn't big on school, I think he decided it was better for him to fight the Japanese than to fight the books," Pat added.
And Patrick Nolan, Junior wasn't alone when it came to that sacrifice. As it turns out there were dozens of other students at Father Ryan High School who were either drafter or signed up to fight in WWII and never managed to finish their high school careers. For all the honors most received defending their country, most never received the honor of getting their diploma.
That included David Leo Langdon.
"He (my brother) was in the Bulge, Battle of the Bulge. He was captured by the Germans, that's when they lost him and didn't know where he was," explained James Langdon sitting in his kitchen one morning.
James' brother David was drafted right around the same time as Pat Nolan's dad. Both men were in their senior years at Father Ryan High School.
"I remember hearing him say, ‘All I could think about was how am I going to die tomorrow?"' James recalled.
Over the last year though, Father Ryan High School started receiving word that men like David Langdon and Pat Nolan, Junior had never received their diplomas. From that notion, "The Hero Project" began to take shape.
"It was more of something that needed to be done and I was just the person that did it," said 17-year-old Leighanne Hasty who helped start the program.
Over the last two months, "The Hero Project" has awarded almost a dozen honorary degrees to either Father Ryan Veterans or their families. To those who have received them, like Pat Nolan, it's about more than a piece of paper.
"He never got that chance to be thanked kind of the same way some of those that lived for a long time have…I guess the diploma kind of means that," Pat explained after a recent Veteran's Day ceremony at the high school.
Those behind the program say they aren't done yet, every day they are discovering more Father Ryan Veterans who never got their diplomas because they went off to fight. They are working to make sure each one is appropriately remembered.