High school is hard enough without adding 20-year-old veterans to the mix.
That’s what happened at Scotia High School in 1946, when 13 seniors re-enrolled after serving in World War II.
Years earlier, each man had enlisted before graduation, partly to avoid the possibility of being drafted into a less desirable branch of the military when they turned 18. If they enlisted, they could choose their branch.
In 1946, the war was over and they’d served their two-year enlistments. Anthony Marotta and 12 others from Scotia came home to finish their education.
“I wanted my diploma,” Marotta said. “It was like college today. On [job] applications, it said, did you graduate from high school?”
He wanted to be able to say yes.
Marotta had spent his years of service in Panama, “shuffling around” planes flown in from aircraft carriers for repairs. He chose to enlist in the Navy because his brother-in-law, in the Army, complained of sleeping on the ground. A Navy man always had a bunk, he said.
Going back to school after two years of freedom wasn’t easy. So the school changed the rules for them. They had their own home room. They could leave campus to smoke or eat lunch.
“We more or less could do what we wanted,” Marotta said. “The teachers treated us like adults.”
Still, having adults in school — smoking, whistling at girls and old enough to take dates to places that sold alcohol — made school administrators tense.
“The young kids tried to copy us and that didn’t help,” Marotta said.
He recalled being told that none of them were allowed to fail because the school leaders didn’t want to have to deal with them for a second year.
When they finally got to the Regents exams at the end of the 1946-1947 school year, Marotta was surprised to discover he finished before anyone else.
His heart sank when the other students emerged from the school groaning about the composition required at the end.
He had somehow missed that part.
“I wanted to blow my head off,” he said. “I went to the teacher. I told her what happened.”
She offered a deal: if three days from then he could recite the mercy speech from Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” she’d give him a passing grade on the composition.
He spent the next three days reciting it constantly in preparation.
“I had to do it in front of the class, it wasn’t just one-on-one. That made it harder,” he said.
He didn’t miss a word. To this day, he can still recite it perfectly.
“I’ve never forgotten it,” he said.
Betty Bissett, the yearbook art editor that year, made a special page in honor of the graduating veterans.
She thought they deserved special recognition, so she photographed each of them and added in the year they would’ve graduated if they hadn’t enlisted. She and Marotta became romantically involved; they were married in 1950.
His schooling done, Marotta worked at the Navy Depot and went on to run Scotia Shoe Repair until his retirement in 1990.
He and his wife remain Scotia residents today.