Vietnam veteran gets to walk stage over 50 years after college graduation

It was a graduation that was decades in the making.

Mervin Cloninger, a Vietnam War veteran, was finally able to walk across the stage Friday morning at a Gaston College graduation ceremony over fifty years after finishing.

But the day came with extra emotion, as a member of Cloninger’s class is missing: Roger Shuler.

Both Shuler and Cloninger graduated from Gaston College with automotive degrees in 1967, near the time of the Vietnam War draft. Both men were drafted and went to war, never having a chance to walk the stage at graduation.

“I came home in February of 1969. He got killed on January 13, 1969,” Cloninger said. “He’d only been over for three months when he got killed.”

The United States Army gave Shuler a Bronze Star for saving others and risking his life on the front lines. Shuler’s only sister, Patricia Shuler-Barker, admires Gaston College for taking the time to recognize her brother over half a century later.

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“My children, as they grew, would ask questions about my brother. I would answer their questions, and I would tell them no more,” Shuler-Barker said. “So it took time for me to tell his history, and I know that as I’ve gotten older, I really needed to let them know about their uncle. I still miss my brother, and I often wonder what he would look like.”

Shuler-Barker said her brother’s two interests were his faith and cars. He was working at a car dealership right after college, following a similar path to Cloninger, who currently owns an auto shop in Bessemer City.

“Roger, had he lived, I’m sure we would’ve done something or worked together,” Cloninger said.

Cloninger won’t be alone walking across the stage; he’ll be carrying a picture of Schuler, saying it’s the least he could do for him.

“It’ll put some closure to it,” Cloninger said. “He would’ve done it for me.”

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