MARYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Three veterans who put country above self and their educations have been awarded their honorary high school diplomas at the Blount County Courthouse.

The special ceremony last week was conducted by Department of Veterans Affairs Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum. Several family members and county officials were in attendance.

Sterling W. Hearon was drafted into the Navy during World War II. He would have graduated from Porter High School but instead got sent to war.

James W. Estes served during WWII as a member of the Army. His high school career was interrupted in Marshall County.

Jack V. McCroskey made the decision to join the Air Force in 1952 at the age of 18. He was on track to graduate from Porter High School.

Now each has the honorary diploma from their high schools along with tassels in school colors. Lloyd Hansen with the Veterans of Foreign Wars presented each with a pin.

After serving his time, Hearon came home to Blount County and earned his GED, enrolling at the University of Tennessee. He quit school after a short time to work at a hardware store, but did go back and earn his degree at UT. Hearon taught school in Blount County for 28 years, retiring in 1985.

He spent time aboard the USS Pelias in wartime, a maintenance and repair ship for submarines. One night while he was on watch in the Tasmanian Sea will forever be etched in his memory.

"It was a beautiful night," Hearon recalled. There were three of them on deck. Suddenly, they saw a torpedo headed straight for the ship. "It just barely missed us," he said.

Hearon's son Dennis was present for the ceremony Monday. He said even though his father earned his GED and went on to UT, getting that diploma from Lanier is special. "He was in the South Pacific when his class was graduating," Dennis said. "This is a huge honor."

Now 95, Hearon helps his son on his farm in Blount County.

McCroskey, 83, had his wife and daughters there at the courthouse Monday. He said he decided to enlist, choosing the Air Force in 1952. He said his father told him at the time "that might be a good place for you," the veteran recalled. He said his dad thought maybe the Air Force would provide him with some discipline.

After serving in Europe and being called back during the Berlin Crisis, McCroskey left the Air Force. Years later he served in the Army. In addition to his children, McCroskey has three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Weinbaum thanked all who were present to honor these brave men. "It's never too late to honor the people who are important in our community," he said.

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Information from: The Daily Times, http://www.thedailytimes.com