TULSA - Bill Tinsley was 16 years old when he enlisted in the Navy to defend the U.S. in World War II.
His pre-war work to support his family and eventual service in WWII took precedence over his pursuit of a high school diploma. On Thursday, after two months of study, Tinsley earned that diploma.
For the first time, the 85-year-old put on his cap and gown, walked around a high school gymnasium and accepted his diploma. He did so in front of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Hundreds of students at Bixby High School gave Tinsley a raucous ovation as he saluted them after turning his tassels.
"I feel good for my family and for my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren and if I can be -- and that's what it's all about -- is to try to be an influence to them and be a challenge to them to do their best and do it as soon as they can," Tinsley said.
Tinsley had humble beginnings in his native Kentucky. To support his family, he took up the welding trade. At 16, with his father by his side, Tinsley lied about his age to go to war. He recalled feeling a sense of patriotism during the Second World War.
It was during his time in the Navy, which eventually took him to Okinawa, Japan, that he earned his education in cooperation.
"I learned a lot about teamwork, working together as one crew," he said.
In addition to being an honorably discharged veteran, Tinsley's been a preacher for 60 years.
Tinsley was able to pursue his GED through the Diplomas for Veterans program and with the help of the Union Adult Learning Center.
He hopes his drive to earn his high school diploma can serve as an inspiration to others.