100-year-old WWII veteran to receive high school diploma in New York

He may not toss his cap in the air, but Saturday's commencement exercises will be extra special for one graduate of an upstate New York high school -- a 100-year-old World War II veteran set to receive his diploma at the same ceremony as his great-grandson.

George Hulka Jr., called "Papa" by all who know him, was drafted in 1941 and served as a combat infantryman in the Army, fighting the Nazis and surviving the D-Day invasion at Normandy as well as several battles abroad, including the Battle of the Bulge.

The Bronze star recipient and father of four, who turned 100 in April, will receive an honorary high school diploma at Schuylerville High School in Schuylerville, N.Y., where his 19-year-old great-grandson, Devin Stark, will also be graduating from.


The school will honor Hulka with a speech before the diploma will be handed by Devin to Hulka, who is in a wheelchair after breaking his leg, relatives said. The ceremony is set for 10 a.m. in the Saratoga Springs City Center.

For Hulka's children, the degree marks a milestone they never thought would happen.

"I’m pretty overwhelmed," Hulka's daughter, 67-year-old Karen Austin, told FoxNews.com.

"I never dreamed he'd be doing this. I’m just very, very proud," she said of her father, who has 10 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.

Hulka, one of nine children who grew up on a dairy farm in Saratoga, N.Y., attended a one-room schoolhouse, his family said. Following his graduation from the eighth grade, Hulka, the second oldest, became a hard-working farmhand as well as an auto mechanic. On Jan. 7, 1941, when he was 27, Hulka was drafted by the Army and served as a combat infantryman in north Africa and Europe for almost three years and battled the Nazis in eight combat campaigns, according to the Times Union newspaper, which first reported on Hulka's high school graduation.

After returning to Saratoga County following the war, Hulka met and wed his wife, Shirley, whom he was married to for 64 years. Austin said her father worked as a mechanic at the Pontiac dealership in Corinth, N.Y., where he managed all auto repair. Shirley Hulka died in 2010.

"They were very devoted to each other," said Austin, fighting back tears. "I know she would be so proud."

Hulka's graduation Saturday was made possible through the statewide program, "Operation Recognition," which permits school districts to issue diplomas to veterans living in New York state who attended but did not finish their schooling. Veterans who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam are eligible for the honorary degree. Five other veterans will also be receiving their high school diplomas from Schuylerville school district on Saturday, Hulka's family said.

Austin and her brother, William Hulka, described their father as a "family man" who spoke little of his war-time heroics.

"He doesn’t like the public spotlight," Austin said. "He’s very humble about his service record, and he never talked much about what he did."

Hulka, who suffered hearing loss during the war, will return from the Wesley Community Center to his home in Corinth once his leg is fully healed, his daughter said.

With diploma in hand, Hulka will soon resume his normal routine: strictly supervising the vegetable garden he shares with his son and watching his favorite show, "The Wheel of Fortune," while enjoying roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, Austin said.

"He doesn’t like missing that. He’s very sharp," she said.

"He remembers things I wish he’d forget," Austin quipped. "And he has a really good sense of humor."

His daughter said Hulka is "so full of life," and illustrated it with a story she and her siblings relish when they speak of their father these days.

Austin said as Hulka was being wheeled to a room for surgery, after breaking his leg two days before his 100th birthday, "He told the nurse, 'This is a heck of a way to start my second hundred years.'"