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WWII veteran, 93, finally adds 'high school grad' to his achievement list

By HOLLY ZACHARIAH | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio | Published: May 29, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Bob Lockard leaned forward in his easy chair and took a deep breath to steel himself for his trip back in time.

"You ready for this?" the 93-year-old World War II veteran asked. "I'll tell you about Utah Beach."

And then he spoke in one long, breathless, run-on sentence — indicative of a man just trying to get through this part of his own story — of how he and 11 other soldiers stepped off their landing craft on the Normandy beach some three days after the initial June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion. He spoke of the bodies he saw and he spoke of the smell, the unmistakable stench of death.

"Couldn't get away from it," he said. "It was terrible, terrible. I buried my nose in the sand once to try and get it out of my head."

He leaned back and paused. He shook his head. "I get nervous when I talk about it. Nervous." He moved on to something else.

Lockard amassed a host of honors, awards, medals and accolades during his almost four years in the service, but the one thing he never did earn was a high school diploma. Lockard quit Circleville High School just shy of age 17 to work as a paramedic in the Civilian Conservation Corps (He patched up the workers who built the bridges and planted and trimmed trees all over southeastern Ohio). The government then drafted him into the Army Air Corps in March 1943.

The Circleville school district, from which Lockard would have graduated in 1944, wants him to know no one forgot his sacrifices. Lockard will walk with 156 other Circleville Tigers at Sunday's commencement ceremony. The school gave him his own, formal graduation announcements (complete with name card inserted) to send out and, when he visited a government class Monday, showed him his black cap and gown.

"I saw that and said, 'I have to wear that?'" Lockard said, laughing. "Well, I guess I do. Maybe it'll be fun."

A 2006 law signed by then-Gov. Bob Taft allows districts to award diplomas to veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam who left school for service and meet certain criteria. Lockard appears to be the first in Circleville to be so honored.

"Bob is very excited about this honor that was 74 years in the making, and so are we," said Superintendent Jonathan Davis.

Lockard lives in Columbus but remains active in the Pickaway County veterans community and organizations. That's how the Pickaway County Veterans Services Office realized the oversight and brought it to the school district's attention.

Seniors who are headed to the military are always recognized as part of Circleville's Memorial Day weekend graduation, Davis said. This year, there will be recognition of just one senior of a different kind. Davis has asked Lockard to offer a few words of inspiration to the Class of 2018.

Lockard likes to recount how, after his job with the Civilian Conservation Corps ended in Wyoming, he hitchhiked to Las Vegas, once hoofing it across the desert for three days without water. Some men finally gave him a ride in the back of their pickup truck. He made it to the El Cortez Hotel, where he worked as a dishwasher and pastry chef until his draft notice arrived. He returned to Ohio and processed out of Fort Hayes in Columbus.

In the service, he first was a cook. But after heavy losses in the Battle of the Bulge, Lockard retrained as a rifleman in the infantry. Serving in the European Theater, he said that narrowly escaping death in battle so many times changed him.

He still can hear the sounds of the "buzz bomb" missiles flying overhead: "You could hear it all the time. 'Chug, chug, chug.' They sounded like an old Maytag washing machine."

And Lockard points to his head as he says that, sometimes, he swears he can still feel the breeze of bullets. "'Ping. Ping. Ping,' as they bounced off everywhere. If my head had been to the right instead of the left, more than once I'd be dead."

There's a story behind each medal he earned, he said, and most of them he'd like to forget. But this diploma coming to him? He still really can't believe it.

"When they told me I'd get it, I told 'em, 'For what?' I didn't do nothing for it."

On the contrary, Superintendent Davis said. It's hard to imagine that Lockard could have done any more.

hzachariah@dispatch.com

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