GREEN ISLAND, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A local World War II veteran received a major surprise Thursday along with a milestone accomplishment that took decades to complete.

With just a few days until turning 98 years old, TEC-5 veteran Harold Williams completed what is for many, a major milestone. Friends, family and fellow service men and women were in attendance to witness the 62nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion member receive his high school diploma from the Ichabod Crane Central School.

“I’m at a loss of words to say thank you all for making this a great day for me.”   

Williams never received his diploma after he dropped out of eighth grade to help his family make ends meet and then ultimately enlisting in the Army and becoming one of the many soldiers to fight on the frontlines of D-Day.

“I didn’t want to work in the arsenal; I wanted to join my buddies,” Williams recalled. “Everybody else was going and I wanted to go, too.”

After being presented with the idea, Superintendent Suzanne Guntlow said the board of education had an easy decision to make.

“It was also no surprise when they unanimously approved Mr. Williams to receive an Ichabod Crane Diploma,” she said.

But that wasn’t the only surprise for the Valatie resident. Valatie Mayor Dianne Argyle was there with a special statement.

“On behalf of the village board, and the citizens of Valatie, do honorary declare January 23, 2021 as Harold E. Williams day in Valatie, New York.”

Williams, a father, friend and loved one of many, said he never lost hope during his enlistment and returned to the U.S. to live with his family.

“We’re so proud of dad and everything he has accomplished in life, and we appreciate dad’s life as a man, as a human being, as a service member,” his son David Williams said.

And though he doesn’t want to believe himself a hero, he said that his thoughts never leave his fallen friends and current service members.

“There is a lot of heroes in the world today, and I just want to make sure that everybody remembers that no matter where you are, war is hell.  Nobody wins, everybody loses.”