The oldest graduate

Forest Ray Byas (right) was granted his high school diploma more than six decades after he left high school to enlist in the United States Army. Byas was greeted with a standing ovation when SISD Superintendent Mike Kelley (left) handed him the document. Photo by Christina Derr

Byas gets SHS diploma – 61 years later

BY CHRISTINA DERR
christina@azlenews.net

Forest Ray Byas (right) was granted his high school diploma more than six decades after he left high school to enlist in the United States Army. Byas was greeted with a standing ovation when SISD Superintendent Mike Kelley (left) handed him the document. Photo by Christina Derr
Graduation marks the end of a long road for anyone who reaches that pinnacle.
However, for one graduate at Springtown High School’s most recent commencement celebration, the road was a bit longer.
In fact, rather than the typical 13 years most students wait for their diplomas, the one bestowed upon Forest Ray Byas was more than six decades overdue.
Byas was a member of Palo Duro High School’s Class of 1957 when he answered his nation’s call and joined the United States Army rather than finishing his high school education.
The young Byas chose to leave the comfort of the classroom to enlist and was sent to Fort Chaffe, Arkansas for basic training.
When that was completed, Byas was shipped out to Germany where he spent the next four years.
In 1962, he returned stateside and served at Fort Rucker, Alabama where he trained warrant officers – it was there he was promoted Sergeant E-5.
After three years serving at home, he was sent abroad again to Germany where he led an infantry unit and was again promoted.
From Germany, Byas was sent to Vietnam to fight in ongoing war there for a year before returning to Alabama.
From there he continued to serve at numerous duty stations around the country and the world.
He retired in 1983 after serving 26 and a half years in the Army – but he wasn’t done.
He was eventually recalled to active duty for another 12 years of service obtaining the rank of Sergeant Major E-9.
Byas is credited with being a key component in the development of the Apache Helicopter and also worked with refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.
While describing Byas’ illustrious career to the audience at graduation May 25, SHS Principal Dr. Scott McPherson said, “The one component this American hero was unable to accomplish until tonight was his high school diploma.”
But that changed just a few minutes later.
Byas was finally granted his diploma by SISD Superintendent Mike Kelley under a special program authorized by the state legislature in 2005.