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74 years on, Northampton man picks up diploma  from Smith Vocational High School

  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • A friend gave World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey of Northampton this model of an LST, or Landing Ship, Tank, similar to the one on which he was stationed during his service. Morrissey will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    A friend gave World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey of Northampton this model of an LST, or Landing Ship, Tank, similar to the one on which he was stationed during his service. Morrissey will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Edward Morrissey of Florence, who will receive his degree tonight from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School at age 91, is shown here after he was first hired as a  Northampton Police patrol officer in 1955. Morrissey, a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII, is the oldest surviving member of the city Police Department.

    Edward Morrissey of Florence, who will receive his degree tonight from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School at age 91, is shown here after he was first hired as a Northampton Police patrol officer in 1955. Morrissey, a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII, is the oldest surviving member of the city Police Department. Purchase photo reprints »

  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • A friend gave World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey of Northampton this model of an LST, or Landing Ship, Tank, similar to the one on which he was stationed during his service. Morrissey will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Edward Morrissey of Florence, who will receive his degree tonight from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School at age 91, is shown here after he was first hired as a  Northampton Police patrol officer in 1955. Morrissey, a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII, is the oldest surviving member of the city Police Department.
  • World War II U.S. Navy veteran Ed Morrisey, 91, of Northampton will be graduating with the Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School class of 2013 on Thursday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

“My father said, ‘School’s all done,’” recalled Morrissey, the youngest of James and Edna Morrissey’s four children. “So I went to work milking cows up on Warner’s Farm on Bridge Road.”

The 91-year-old Florence native said he also worked at a local gas station and at the Savage Arms Co. in Chicopee Falls before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in May 1942. He served as a cook on a landing ship and fought in the Battle of Peleliu, now Palau, in the Pacific Theater.

Morrissey survived WWII and returned to Northampton, where he married Julie Pedruczny and worked for 25 years as a city police officer before retiring in 1977. He felt content with hobbies such as fishing and gardening, but one thing remained unfinished: He never received his high school diploma.

That will change tonight, when Morrissey joins 97 other members of Smith Vocational’s class of 2013 at graduation ceremonies set for 7 p.m. at J.M. Greene Hall on the Smith College campus.

“It’s something I’ve thought about doing for years,” said Morrissey, in an interview at his tidy house in a neighborhood near the R.K. Finn Ryan Road School. “I read in the paper about other veterans who got their degrees. I thought, why can’t I graduate?”

Vocational school administrators say they’re thrilled to be awarding Morrissey his degree after more than seven decades. He will likely be the oldest graduate in Smith Voke’s history.

“He remembers a lot about the school from his time here,” said Admissions Coordinator Dena Roy, who helped find Morrissey’s records in the school archives after he approached her at an open house last fall.

“We are proud to be honoring a true American hero,” said Smith Vocational Superintendent Jeffrey Peterson.

Morrissey has a model of the landing craft he served on in the Pacific on a table in his living room.

“We stayed on Peleliu for six weeks and had battleships throwing shells at us,” he said. “The amount of ships they sank in that war and the aircraft carriers ... we lost enough.”

The landing ships also lacked keels, making storms tough going. “One minute you’d be up here and the next, down there,” Morrissey said, gesturing with his hands to show the sudden tilt.

Despite the dangers, he says he loved being in the Navy.

“I saw a lot of things — people who didn’t live the way we do,” said Morrissey, who has bright blue eyes and trim white hair. “There were people on the islands living in huts and living on grass.”

He considers President Truman the real hero of the war. “He gave them the atom bomb and that was the end of it,” Morrissey said. A copy David McCullough’s biography of Truman — Morrissey’s current nightly reading material — rests nearby on the kitchen table.

After he was discharged in 1946, Morrissey returned to Northampton and married his wife, Julie, who worked for many years as a medical secretary. She died in 2000 at age 81. The couple had no children.

Following a brief stint at Brookside Dairy, Morrissey settled into a long career as a Northampton police officer.

“I worked every place in the city,” he said. “I started out walking the beats and ended up in a cruiser. And I took care of the parking meters. We didn’t have so many then.”

Northampton Police Capt. Joseph Koncas — a longtime friend of Morrissey’s — praised the older man’s vast knowledge of the community.

“He is like a walking historical encyclopedia for the city,” Koncas said. “And he continues to be a wonderful ambassador for the police department. He just loves people. That’s probably what made him such a great officer.”

Koncas — who gave Morrissey the model landing ship he found at a flea market — noted that many members of the “Greatest Generation” left school to support their families and join the war effort.

“There were a lot of kids who didn’t have the opportunity to finish,” said Koncas, who will be attending tonight’s commencement. “I know he’s very proud of graduating. It’s something he considered a lost achievement.”

While he’s eager to get his diploma, Morrissey is less keen about being in the spotlight.

When asked if he’ll be wearing a cap and gown at tonight’s ceremony, he replied, “I sure hope not!”

Morrissey, who has outlived his siblings, will have 18 extended family members and friends in the audience tonight. Among them are his niece Phyllis Ansaldo and his godson, Chester Warawka, a state police lieutenant at the Northampton barracks.

Warawka said Morrissey was a lifelong friend of his father’s, Chester Sr., “and now he’s a lifelong friend of mine.

“It’s not often you see someone like Ed graduate and at his age,” Warawka said. “To still be sharp as a tack and able to take care of himself.”

Morrissey said his late wife would have been proud to see him get his degree. “She’d go for it,” he said. “She went to Bay Path and got her diploma.”

As for advice to younger members of the family about school, Morrissey’s is straightforward.

“Stay there,” he said. “You can’t even punch a cash register without a diploma. If you haven’t got one, you don’t get in.”

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