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89-year-old WWII veteran receives high school diploma 7 decades after dropping out

An 89-year-old World War II veteran is making headlines after receiving his high school diploma more than seven decades after he dropped out to join the Navy.

According to WZZM, Erwin Empie left Cedar Springs High School in Kent County, Michigan, when he was a sophomore to serve in World War II. From 1944 to 1946, he was a 2nd Class Seaman in the Navy.

Empie "always felt incomplete and unfinished" without his diploma, he told WZZM. So seven months ago, he decided to change that.

>> Read more trending stories

"My family saw an article about veterans being able to get their GEDs, so my three kids decided to make it happen for me," he said.

Thanks to Public Act 181, aka Operation Recognition, Empie had his chance. The law says veterans who joined the military to serve in World War II, Korea or Vietnam before finishing high school are eligible to receive a high school diploma.

Empie walked across the stage June 2 to receive his diploma along with the rest of Cedar Springs' Class of 2016.

"I just looked out in the audience, then raised my fist," he told WZZM. "I almost lost my emotions then."

He added, "I just thank the Lord that I was able to do it."

Read more here.

>> Click here to watch the news report

7 things to know now: U.S. airstrikes ok'd; Malia graduates; Ali funeral; concealed carry law

Here's a roundup of news trending across the nation and world today.

What to know now:

1. Airstrikes approved: The Obama administration has approved plans to expand airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to officials, the move is part of a plan to better support and assist the Afghan forces in the fight against the terror group.   

2. Gun ruling: A federal appeals court in California upheld a state law that allows law enforcement to require people who want to carry a concealed weapon to show a good reason beyond simple safety before they are approved for a permit. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Americans don't have a constitutional right to carry concealed weapons in public. The ruling overturned a ruling by the same court in 2014 that allowed citizens of the state to more easily get a permit to carry a concealed firearm.  

3. Dude got fired: A fan of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers was fired from his job after he posted an obscene tweet targeting the family of Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry. The man, who goes by the Twitter handle @SoftCaramelKiss, told the Curry family to get out of Cleveland and then made an obscene comment about Curry’s 3-year-old daughter, Riley. Curry’s sister, Sydel Curry, engaged the fan in an exchange of tweets, then blocked him from her account. The real estate company the man worked for got word of the exchange and fired the man. They apologized to the Curry family. The Cavaliers and Warriors play in Game 4 tonight in Cleveland. 

4. Ali’s funeral: Boxing great Muhammad Ali will laid to rest Friday in his hometown of Louisville, Kty. The funeral service, said to be planned by “The Greatest” himself, will see former President Bill Clinton, comedian Billy Crystal and Bryant Gumbel eulogizing Ali. Prior to the service, Ali’s body will be driven through the streets of the city.  

>> Read more trending stories    5. Malia graduates: First daughter Malia Obama will graduate from high school Friday. The 17-year-old is receiving her diploma from the private Sidwell Friends School. First lady Michelle Obama says Malia wants to be a filmmaker.  Malia will turn 18 on July 4 – today is her sister Sasha’s 15th birthday.  

And one more

The long-awaited ESPN “30 for 30” documentary about O.J. Simpson premieres Saturday. The nearly 8 hour film begins on ABC, then switches to ESPN for several nights next week. Award-winning director Ezra Edelman conducted 72 interviews for the film. According to Edelman, he tried to get Simpson to participate in the documentary. He said he mailed a letter to Simpson in care of the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada where he is serving time for armed robbery and kidnapping, but did not receive a response.  “O.J.: Made in America” airs at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. 

In case you missed it

Dana Carvey nails it with impersonations of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Bill/Hillary Clinton.

The Blue Angels honored their fallen Marine pilot with a flyover that will bring tears to your eyes

Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss was on a practice flight when he refused to eject from his jet to avoid hitting a building near Smyrna Airport in Tennessee last week.

>> RELATED STORY: Pilot killed in Blue Angels crash

>> RELATED STORY: Reporter shares memory of flying with Blue Angels pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss

Kuss died, leaving behind a wife and two children.

>> Read more trending stories

On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels Marine Corps C-130 Fat Albert plane and one F/A-18 Hornet plane flew over Pensacola, Pensacola Beach and Pensacola Key, Fla., in honor of Kuss, WEAR-TV reported. The Blue Angels flew his body to the Naval Air Station’s home base in Pensacola.

A memorial ceremony is scheduled to take place at the base Thursday.

>> Click here or scroll down to learn more

<iframe src="//;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe><script src="//;border=false"></script>[View the story "The Blue Angels honored their fallen Marine pilot with a flyover that will bring tears to your eyes" on Storify]

WWII veteran returns to Britain 70 years after serving, dies peacefully

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector was in his 20s when he helped defend Britain 70 years ago during World War II. 

 >> Read more trending stories  

This month, at age 94, Rector decided to leave his home in Barefoot Bay, Florida, to visit the region that he hadn't visited in seven decades.

Through a program conducted by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans that helps people visit war sites, Rector signed up to visit the Royal Air Force station Snetterton Heath, in Norfolk, England.

It was there that he served with the 96th Bomb Group in 1945 as a radio operator and gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, flying eight combat missions over Germany during the spring of the war’s final year, The Washington Post reported. During many of the missions, his plane took hard hits from dozens of bullets.

Rector was excited to visit the site once again.

“He planned it for like, the last six months,” Darlene O’Donnell, Rector’s stepdaughter, told Floriday Today. “He couldn’t wait to go.”

On May 6, while on the Europe-bound plane flight, the plane's pilot invited Rector to the cockpit, where the two took a photo together.

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“The flight attendant stopped us and said, ‘Mr. Rector, the captain would like to meet you,'” Susan Jowers told Florida Today.

Jowers, a woman who The Washington Post reported had become "almost a daughter" to Rector, had served as his guardian during a 2011 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. She accompanied him on the trip to England.

After touching down, the first site the group visited was RAF Uxbridge, a former Royal Air Force station in the London borough of Hillingdon.

 Rector toured Battle of Britain Bunker, an underground command center where fighter airplane operations were directed during D-Day.

Right after the tour, he told Jowers he felt dizzy.

“He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done,” Jowers said.

Then Rector died peacefully.

“He couldn’t have asked for a better way to go,” Rector's daughter, Sandy Vavruich, told Florida Today. “It was quick and painless. He had just gotten to see two planes, and he passed away between them.”

Rector never got to visit RAF Snetterton Heath.

Before repatriating his remains to the United States, a small service was planned for Rector in Britain -- but the service was anything but small.

“They just wanted something very simple. And when I found a little bit of background out about Melvin, there was no way we were going to just give him a very simple service,” Neil Sherry, the British funeral director in charge of Rector’s service, told ITV London News. “I wanted it to be as special as possible.”

The U.S. Embassy donated a flag to drape over Rector's coffin, and servicemen and women and British historians attended the service to pay their respects to Rector.

“Representation from the Royal Air Force and the British Army I saw here was phenomenal,” U.S. Army Maj. Leif Purcell told ITV London News. “I was expecting just to see myself and maybe two or three other U.S. service members and a priest, and that was it. So it was very delightful to see.”

“I do know of his sacrifice and his family’s sacrifice, so you do him and his family a great honor by being here today," one U.S. serviceman said at the May 18 funeral. 

“He certainly got a beautiful send-off,” Jowers told Florida Today. “People everywhere, from Cambridge to London, heard his story. He completed his final mission."

Rector is survived by six children. His family will pay their respects and celebrate his life June 9 at First Baptist Church in Barefoot Bay.

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