FRANK Grooms didn't even have time to kiss his mother goodbye. He didn't even get to hug the woman, or look in her eyes, or tell her that he loved her before he went off to war.
Instead, in April 1943, Grooms, five months past his 18th birthday, received his "greetings from Uncle Sam," the draft notice that said he was to report for induction in the Army.
So he left his house in the 900 block of Park Ave. and trekked to the draft board, which was just down the street. After he was processed, Grooms was marched back up the street, past his home and on to the 5th Regiment Armory. From there he was shipped to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training.
He waved goodbye to his mother, who was standing in the doorway of their house, as he walked by. He didn't have time for a proper farewell, or to wait for his father to get home from work, or even to graduate.
Grooms was in his senior year at Baltimore's Colored Vocational School, which was renamed George Washington Carver Vocational-Technical High School the next year in honor of the famous African-American scientist, who died the year Grooms marched off to battle.
His graduation was two months away. But Grooms couldn't make it. From basic training he went to England, where he served in a company that refueled tanks for Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army.
Grooms didn't get his high school diploma in 1943. He didn't get it in 1946, either, when he was discharged from the Army and returned home.
"He went to Carver to get it in November of 1946," Treva Shields, Grooms' oldest daughter, said Wednesday afternoon. "The new principal there told him they couldn't find it."
The principal suggested Grooms ask at school headquarters, then located on 25th Street. An exasperated and perhaps war-weary Grooms didn't bother.
He knew he had a diploma coming, and later, after he had five children, impressed on them the value of education. It would be years before the matter of Grooms' high school diploma would be considered again.
It happened this year, when Shields' husband was watching a television newscast. He saw a story about some World War II veterans from Carroll County getting their high school diplomas.
Shields wondered about her dad's diploma and called the State Department of Education to ask how she could get it. The diploma, Shields figured, would make a nice Christmas gift for her father.
The state office referred her to folks in the Baltimore school system. Three weeks ago, Shields talked to Ralph Haskins, who works in the office of Carmen Russo, the system's chief executive officer.
About two weeks ago, someone from the central guidance office called Carole Todd, the head of the guidance department at Carver.
Todd called Shields and told her she would check the school's vault to see if a diploma for one Frank Grooms was down there.
Grooms' diploma wasn't there, but one diploma from 1943 was. So members of Carver's printing department scanned the old diploma - which contained all the signatures of the mayor and school officials in 1943 - and created a new document with a blank name and filled Grooms' moniker in the space.
Todd did something more. Realizing a good news story when she heard it, Todd contacted the news media and politicians. The result was an official graduation ceremony for one Frank Grooms, 77, of Carver's Class of 1943, held on Dec. 12, 2001.
Television cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped as Grooms strode into Carver's hospitality room - dressed in an official cap and gown - for the occasion.
In the rear of the room was his official graduation cake with white icing and blue lettering: "Congratulations, Frank Grooms."
His three sisters, four daughters, son, granddaughter and niece attended.
Two of his 1943 classmates were on hand, as well as the Rev. and Mrs. Russell Groves, Grooms' pastor and his wife.
Cathy Pugh, the 4th District councilwoman, came to congratulate Grooms and pass on the regards of Mayor Martin O'Malley. Sen. Clarence Mitchell of the 44th District offered Grooms congratulations and the regards of his great-uncle, former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, who's also a World War II vet.
Michael Plitt, Carver's principal, made it all official by presenting the transcript of Grooms' grades - he made all 80s and 90s and majored in horticulture - and announcing that he was a student in good standing.
"Mr. Grooms without question would have been an honors graduate," Plitt announced to cheers and applause from the assembled.
Frank Grooms, Carver '43, received several standing ovations and tumultuous cheers that day.
He survived the battles of Bastogne and the Saar Valley and the nighttime bombings of the Luftwaffe to return home, marry, raise five kids, work 39 years in the post office and, finally, receive the high school diploma denied him because of the exigencies of defeating fascism and tyranny.
There are few words that can appropriately describe such an occasion, but perhaps Grooms said it best:
"This is the most glorious day of my life."