WWII veteran graduates college nearly 70 years after his last class

PHOTO: World War II veteran Bob Barger is pictured on April 25, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio.PlayHaraz N. Ghanbari
WATCH WWII veteran graduates college at 96

It's been almost 70 years since Bob Barger last sat in a classroom, but the World War II veteran finally received his college diploma this weekend.

The 96-year-old former U.S. Navy pilot graduated Saturday with an associate degree in technical studies from the University of Toledo in his hometown, the school said.

He is believed to be the oldest graduate in the university's history.

"I never thought I'd live to see this," Barger said in a recent interview with ABC station WTVG in Toledo, Ohio. "It's a miracle!"

PHOTO: World War II veteran Bob Barger holds a photo of himself taken on Oct. 9, 1943, when he was serving in the U.S. Navy. Haraz N. Ghanbari
World War II veteran Bob Barger holds a photo of himself taken on Oct. 9, 1943, when he was serving in the U.S. Navy.

Barger enlisted in the Navy in 1940, where he served as a commissioned naval officer, earned his naval aviator wings and was detailed as a naval flight officer. After war ended and Barger returned home to Toledo, he took classes at the local university.

But Barger dropped out before finishing his degree to focus on his job and providing for his wife and two children, according to a press release from the University of Toledo.

PHOTO: World War II veteran Bob Barger is pictured on April 25, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio. Haraz N. Ghanbari
World War II veteran Bob Barger is pictured on April 25, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio.

Decades later, Barger was asked to officiate the promotion of Navy Reserve officer Haraz Ghanbari to the rank of lieutenant, and the two became friends. Ghanbari, the director of military and veteran affairs at the University of Toledo, eventually learned that Barger was a former student who never graduated.

So he started searching for the veteran's transcripts.

"We were able to retrieve his transcripts from the archives. They were actually on microfiche," Ghanbari said in a recent interview with WTVG.

The records showed that Barger attended the University of Toledo from 1947 to 1950, and that he had completed enough courses to graduate from the school's University College with an associate degree -- a two-year diploma not offered at the time he was a student.

"We are proud to honor a member of the ‘Greatest Generation’ at commencement," Barbara Kopp Miller, dean of University College at Toledo, said in a statement. "It will be a memorable moment to see Bob receive the degree he earned and pay tribute to a veteran who served our country."

Barger was the first of nearly 3,100 students to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas at the university's Glass Bowl stadium Saturday morning.

Ghanbari was by the veteran's side to help him do that.

"I will just put one foot in front of the other and keep going, I guess," Barger laughed.

Barger, who has four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren, said before the event he looked forward to celebrating the milestone with family and friends.

"My grandson graduated from UT, and he no longer can say he is one up on me," he said in a statement through the school. "I have a degree, too, just took me a while!"