An 85-year-old World War II veteran, who dropped out of high school decades ago to enlist in the Naval Reserve, was awarded an honorary diploma in a surprise ceremony, the Star Tribune reported.

Richard Thill finally got his diploma from Humboldt Senior High School in St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday, 69 years after leaving school without graduating.

In 1940, Thill's father signed papers lying about his son's age, saying he was 17, the cutoff for the military. He was only 16.

On Wednesday, Thill had been invited to the school ostensibly to speak about his experience in the war. Instead, the school revealed its true intention — to present him with the diploma, dated June 8, 1942, the Star Tribune reported.

"I really love this. This is something I really treasure," Thill said.

"It's your job to learn everything you can learn, because it will help you through your entire life," he said. "This just goes to show that, sometimes, it takes a little longer."

Thill deployed to Hawaii in January 1941. He was stationed on the destroyer USS Ward and was part of the crew that fired the country's first shots in the war, sinking a Japanese submarine as it tried to enter Pearl Harbor in the early morning on Dec. 7, 1941, the Star Tribune reported.

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