99-year-old WWII veteran gets birthday wish to walk across stage at commencement

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After nearly 70 years, World War II veteran Elizabeth Barker Johnson is getting her wish for her 99th birthday -- the chance to walk across the stage at graduation. (Credit: WSSU)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - A North Carolina World War II veteran is getting her wish for her 99th birthday -- the chance to walk across the stage at graduation.

In 1943, Elizabeth Barker Johnson made history. She enlsited in the U.S Army, becoming a member of the 6888th regiment, the only all-female, African American Women’s Army Corps battalion to serve overseas during World War II.

After the war, she made history again as the first woman to enroll at Winston-Salem Teachers College, now Winston-Salem State University, on the GI Bill. She earned a degree in education in August 1949.

Nearly 70 years after earning her degree, she's getting her wish.

The World War II veteran was surprised at a 99th birthday party with a gift from her alma mater, a WSSU red cap and gown that she will wear at the ceremony at Winston-Salem’s Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where she’ll share the stage with Rams from the class of 2019.

"I’m going to think I’m dreaming,” Johnson said.

Johnson started teaching in Virginia immediately after graduating from WSSU. She couldn’t find someone to substitute for her on graduation day, so she missed the commencement ceremony.

In addition to serving her country, Johnson taught public school for 18 years, the bulk of her time in North Carolina.

“From serving her country during World War II to impacting the lives of hundreds of students as a classroom teacher in North Carolina and Virginia, PFC Elizabeth Barker Johnson is the embodiment of Winston-Salem State’s motto, ‘Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve,’ ” said Elwood L. Robinson, WSSU chancellor. “We are inspired by her and excited to give her the opportunity, 70 years later, to finally walk across stage for commencement.”  

She's set to walk on May 10. Congratulations!