MERIDEN, Conn. (AP) — Robert Argo is not one to stand still for long.
At age 65, the Meriden native, now living in Southington, still works several days a week and wants to work more. But in this age of online job applications, there is no easy way to explain the lack of a high school diploma.
“I have no regrets,” Argo said. “It just hinders finding a job.”
Argo attended Maloney High School and H.C. Wilcox Technical High Schools in 1965 but at age 17, he wanted more. His parents refused to help him sign up for the Marines but he was able to enlist in the Navy Reserves without a parent signature.
Argo will be the first Vietnam veteran to receive his high school diploma from the city school system through a state program that helps honorably discharged veterans. He was supposed to get his diploma last week but snow delayed the presentation until Jan. 7.
During his time in the service, Argo was stationed in the Pacific on an aircraft carrier that used helicopters to lift soldiers onto the shores in the Philippines and Okinawa. After several months, persistent seasickness forced him to search for a new assignment.
He volunteered for duty in Vietnam, and spent the next year guarding ammunition dumps, loading areas, and hospitals near Da Nang.
In 1967, Argo was honorably discharged and returned home. He found a job at Pratt & Whitney as a machinist. At that time, he explained, when soldiers left the service, the government would pay half their salary while they were being trained. After six months, he was fully paid by Pratt & Whitney.
“You didn’t need a diploma,” he said. “Nowadays you do.”
But the compounds he worked with gave him boils on his hands and after a year and a half he went back to carpentry, his vocation at Wilcox. Later, he got a job as a meat cutter at Fowler’s Market in Middlefield, was a U.S. Department of Agriculture plant manager in New Haven, owned Argo’s market in South Meriden and now works two days a week at West Center Market in Wallingford.
Argo has diabetes. His exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam makes him eligible for disability payments. The Veterans Administration office sent him to school for training to become an armed guard. But most places want a diploma, he said.
Someone at the Veterans Administration’s office told him high school diplomas are available to veterans who served in Vietnam. The service had been available to World War II and Korean War era veterans. In November, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy extended the benefit Vietnam vets.
“He approached the board offices,” said Superintendent of Schools Mark Benigni. “He explained the situation. He was very excited.”
Argo followed the process and everything checked out, Benigni said.
“The members of the board are very honored to present him with a diploma,” Benigni said. “The learning experience the soldiers get in serving our country to protect our freedom is the kind of service we need to support. It’s only right that we recognize their experience outside of the classroom.”
Argo is grateful to the school board.
“When you get older, you wish you’d stayed in school,” he said. “But we all make mistakes. I have no regrets about going to Vietnam. It’s a good education. It’s available now, I can us it. I’m glad even at 65 to still get it.”
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