More than half a century after he was drafted into the Vietnam War, Eddie Gritton received his official high school diploma during a presentation at last week’s Nelson County Schools Board of Education meeting.
Nelson County school board member Damon Jackey presented the diploma.
“I’ve been lucky enough through my 10-plus years on the board to hand diplomas to children of people I graduated with and lucky enough to hand it to my own daughter who graduated from Nelson County a few years ago,” Jackey said. But Tuesday’s presentation was different. It’s been 53 years since Gritton walked the halls of Bloomfield High School, before Jackey was ever born.
Gritton, a member of the class of 1966, initially received his draft papers in October 1965 but was granted a deferment until April 1966. During his deferment, Gritton took night classes and other alternative coursework in an attempt to finish his schooling on time, but his service began when he was still a few credits shy of graduation, according to Tuesday’s presentation.
Gritton was sworn into the United States Army April 12, 1966, received basic training at Fort Riley in Kansas and was deployed to Vietnam in December, arriving on New Year’s Day 1967. He was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division and later transferred to the 4th Infantry Division, spending most of his tour in the Central Highlands.
After almost a year overseas, Gritton contracted Malaria and returned to the U.S. to recover. He was stationed in Missouri until he finished his service in April 1968.
Tuesday’s presentation began with a brief video showing pictures of Gritton and summarizing his service, as well as presentations from Air Force Junior ROTC cadets. The presentation is part of an initiative through the Department of Veterans Affairs — and state law — for school districts to issue high school diplomas to those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as many who were drafted or enlisted during those conflicts left before having a chance to graduate.
The Kentucky program has been in place since 2002 and additional information on the initiative, eligibility and how to apply can be found at veterans.ky.gov under the Other Programs and Services tab. Those with questions can also call (502) 564-9203.