Seventy-five years after withdrawing from high school to serve as a U.S. Army soldier during World War II, Vito Trause had one last (surprise) mission to complete.
Dubbed "Operation Vito," the 93-year-old veteran and prisoner of war was awarded a high school diploma at Becton Regional High School in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Wednesday night.
Trause stepped up to the plate on Nov. 30, 1943, when he left school (formerly known as East Rutherford High School) "to go to war, to join the service, to fight for his country," Becton Regional Principal Dario Sforza told Fox News. He was supposed to graduate in 1945.
When Sforza learned Trause never received his high school diploma, he wanted to surprise the man — who he called the "town hero" — with one of his own.
"Instead of spending time in English class during his senior year, [Trause] was captured by the Germans as a prisoner of war," Sforza said, adding that the veteran worked two jobs throughout his life to support his wife and two daughters.
Moved by his story, the school principal set out on "Operation Vito." The mission, which he had less than a month to complete, was broken down into a few parts: get Trause his diploma and any relevant awards — like medals, sashes and stoles — all while keeping it a secret from the veteran.
Sforza worked with the state's Department of Education to give Trause not just an honorary diploma, but the real deal. He also worked with graduates from the 1950s to recreate the diploma Trause would've received in 1945.
The principal said he came across Trause's military discharge papers, which stated he received four honors for his service — the Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars — and had them replicated for Trause.
Sforza also coordinated with the U.S. military to have active duty commanders and sergeants in attendance to surprise Trause.
At Wednesday's ceremony, Sforza said he took to the stage to present the gift to Trause. Usually in a wheelchair, Trause stood up and walked as he was escorted by military personnel to his daughters, who gave him his official diploma.
The 93-year-old received a standing ovation "from every single person in the audience," Sforza said, adding that Trause "couldn't stop smiling the whole time."
"It was special. Everything fell into place," Sforza said. "We had a vision, we had an operation, and we succeeded in our mission."
"[Trause] can continue to live out all his dreams," the principal continued. "This was just one last mission that he needed to accomplish."