Brooklyn Veteran Receives his High School diploma at 93
SHEEPSHEAD BAY — A life of hard work and sacrifice has paid off for a 93-year-old World War II veteran who just received his high school diploma.
Joseph Quinlivan, who grew up in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood before he moved to Brooklyn, received his diploma from Operation Recognition, a program that allows war veterans to earn New York state high school degrees, even if they were unable to finish.
“It felt really good to have an education,” Joseph — who goes simply by “Joe” — told The Tablet. “I was surprised, and I was glad … It was nice.”
His daughter, Margaret Quinlivan, said that the family thought it would be “a wonderful opportunity” that she wants other veteran families to know about.
“Education has always been important to our parents — that [us kids] went to school and had better opportunities than they did,” said Margaret Quinlivan. “My father worked very hard his whole life to provide us what we needed. It was hard because he didn’t have those degrees, but he did really well with what they had.”
Operation Recognition honors veterans’ sacrifice and service to the nation.
Eligible applicants must be New York state residents and World War II, Korean or Vietnam War veterans who received a satisfactory discharge from the U.S. military. Deceased veterans can also receive a diploma, and the child or spouse of a deceased veteran may also accept a posthumous diploma on their behalf.
“A walking history book” is how Margaret, who teaches at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Academy, Forest Hills, describes her father.
“People can read about the Great Depression and WWII, but my father lived through it all, and he could tell you about it. He’s given his children a real sense of pride in our country, a real sense of rootedness in our faith, and he’s a great family man.”
Faith and service
In 1944, at age 16, Joe dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Navy, and he served as a seaman first class, working on the U.S.S. Pasig.
“It’s a great country, and you should serve it,” Joe said. “Where I lived, everybody, everybody went into the service.”
“With all the injustices in the world, he had to be there to help,” Margaret said.
Service runs in the family: Joe’s father served in the Spanish-American War, and his older brother was a prisoner of war when Joe enlisted.
After two years of military service, including reuniting with his brother, Joe went back to work to help support his growing family. He worked at a shipping company and later got a job with the New York City Transit Authority as a conductor on the subways for almost 30 years. At one point, he worked on the line that ran behind his house.
In 1955, he married his late wife, Margaret, at St. Edmund’s Parish in Sheepshead Bay, which became the parish where they raised their five children: Mary Quinlivan Tomes, Joseph, Margaret, James and Ann.
Joe has been recognized for his hard work and service: He was named “Veteran of the Game” by the Mets at Citi Field in 2016.
A strong Catholic upbringing also motivated the Quinlivan family to continue working hard and serving their country. Joe’s daughters stayed in Catholic education, teaching at Catholic schools around the Brooklyn Diocese, and his son and grandson, both named Joseph, joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
“My faith is very important to me, and that’s because of my parents,” Margaret said.
“They raised us to be not only good Catholics, but good Christians, and they were very caring people, good neighbors, good parishioners, and they would help out whenever needed. So it felt good to give back and recognize him.”
“Our father was the epitome of the American dream,” said youngest daughter, Ann. “He worked so hard, and gave us everything we ever wanted.”
On Father’s Day, the Quinlivan family gathered to surprise their father Joe with the state-recognized diploma and a plaque honoring his service, which reads “Freedom is Not Free.”
“Looking at his diploma, [Joe] just kept saying he never thought he would graduate high school, and it was just a nice moment,” said Margaret. “[Dad] made sure all of us graduated high school and to go on to college, to have an easier and better life.
“It was so wonderful to see that after all these years, to get recognition. He was so happy that the state recognized his service, that his experience counted. It was really important. He’s been to all our graduations and encouraged us through school, been there for all of us, so it was nice to be there for him.”
He’s strong, healthy and still active, which raises the question, what’s Joe’s secret?
“It’s luck, I guess,” he says. “Hard work. And lots of overtime.”