Seventy-six years ago, Henry Buster Patacini, 92, of Whitehall worked the family dairy farm then went to war — preventing him from graduating high school.
On Friday, the World War II veteran, in front of 20 family members, received an honorary high school diploma from Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau in a surprise ceremony.
They gathered at Borden’s Hotel in Whitehall as part of OPI’s Honorary High School Diplomas program for Montana vets.
“It went great,” said Gail Banks, Patacini’s daughter. “He said, ‘But I didn’t earn that.’ And Denise Juneau said, ‘Henry, you did it by the service to your country and your community.’”
Patacini is one of nearly 400 Montanans who have received an honorary diploma from OPI since 2003, when the program was created. His is the 29th honorary diploma Juneau has signed since her tenure as state superintendent started in 2009.
Banks said her father was humbled by the honor and a little surprised.
“I told him last night he’s getting an award for veterans,” said Banks. “He knew something was up, though.”
Patacini dropped out of Whitehall High School about 1939 at age 16, when he was a sophomore, to work on the family’s Pleasant Valley dairy farm, where they milked up to 100 cows twice a day.
“He kind of had to quit school because the war was on,” added Banks.
In December 1944, he was drafted. He was enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving from January 1945 to May 1946. He held a construction position. He was stationed mostly in the Philippines and Okinawa, Japan.
A Helena Independent-Record article dated Dec. 17, 1944, reported that eight Jefferson County men traveled to Butte for their military physical examinations that same week.
The selective service included Patacini in the list.
Other Montanans were Gerald J. Collins and Charles C. Page of Whitehall; Charles F. Dahl of Anaconda (formerly of Clancy); Robert C. Hughes of Columbus (formerly of Boulder); Corliss N. Willette of Lemmon, South Dakota (formerly of Whitehall); William L. Dawson of Boulder; and Hans Mo of Helena (formerly of Basin).
Since its inception, the program has honored vets who served from 1939-1947, 1950-1953 and 1961-1975.
“Providing honorary diplomas for the men and women who served our country is the least we can do to recognize the sacrifice each of them have made,” said Juneau in a press release.