When Delmar McKinney left Brookesmith High School in 1943, he was a few credits short of getting his diploma.

With a war going on in Europe and Asia, and tough times everywhere, McKinney, the 11th child in a family of 12, figured the high school diploma wasn’t a priority. Life had more pressing issues, he thought, and maybe someday he’d finish school and get the piece of paper showing he’d graduated.

McKinney’s someday came Thursday. In front of an audience of his wife of 54 years, their college-educated sons, his sister, nephew, one of his daughters-in-law and three granddaughters, Brookesmith School Superintendent Tommy Hall awarded McKinney his diploma.

The graduation ceremony was a complete surprise to the 81-year-old veteran and his wife, Glenda, of Taylor, who thought they were just out for a ride with their son and daughter-in-law Bo and Melissa, and granddaughters Annie, Kathryn and Laura.

All that’s left of the Brookesmith High School Del McKinney remembered from 1943 is the rock gym. But as the family drove by the new building, and noticed a car, Del said if the building were unlocked, he’d like to make a rest stop.

Stealthily waiting inside were other family members, including Del and Glenda’s younger son, Mo, of Round Rock; their nephew Roger Clark, a coach at Granbury; Del’s sister, 91-year-old Lavada Gregg — and Hall, who had the 1943 dated diploma and blue honor cords for the graduate.

Del McKinney beamed as he was presented the diploma 64 years after the fact and Hall also gave him a file containing his school record — classes, grades and attendance noted.

“I’m surprised,” the graduate said. “I didn’t expect this. I always wanted to graduate, but I never got back to do it.”

After leaving high school, McKinney was drafted into the Army and by 1944, he was stationed in the Philippine Islands. When the war ended in 1945, McKinney said, he told the boys in his platoon they’d be home soon. But it was a year before they set foot on the home turf, and by then there was a whole other long list of priorities that took precedence over going back to school.

After he got home, McKinney said, he needed to work and there were jobs in the oil field that didn’t require the diploma.

By 1959, though, things had gotten tough in the oil field, and by then McKinney was married with two boys to raise. He took a mail carrier’s job in Odessa and stayed with that until he retired in 1985.

Glenda McKinney said after they were married and when their boys were small, Del decided to pursue his GED through a correspondence course. “It would be 10 o’clock at night, and he would stay up and study sometimes until 2 in the morning,” she said. “He wanted to get his GED. Someone told him it would be almost impossible to make more than a 90 on those tests, but the first test he took he got a 91.”

But he didn’t get to finish the correspondence course. “You think you’ll do it after this or that, but it’s always something else,” Glenda said.

Del and Glenda McKinney did make sure, however, that their boys finished school. Bo and Mo both graduated from college and are today financial planners.

Texas Senate Bill 387, passed in 2001, allows veterans who left school to serve in a war to be awarded their high school diplomas. Bo McKinney said he found out about the bill because one of his clients arranged for his father to get his high school diploma.

“I thought it was a neat deal, and wanted to do that for Dad. I called Mr. Hall, and he checked it out and said we could do it,” Bo McKinney said.

Thursday was Hall’s last day as superintendent — he’s retiring after a 39-year career in education, the last 17 of which have been as Brookesmith’s superintendent. His last official duty as superintendent, he said, was to award the veteran his diploma.

“It’s a pretty good way to go out,” Hall said. “This is a neat thing. I’m proud we could do this for one of our veterans. You think about all Mr. McKinney and the people of his generation have done for our country, and you think this is the right thing to do.”