June 7, 2021 (Wellesley, MA) – The Wellesley High School Class of 2021 includes 390 outstanding seniors and one extraordinary senior citizen. On Friday, June 4, 97-year old Cosmo Uttero received his Wellesley High School diploma, 78 years after he left WHS to enlist in the United States Army. Adding to the significance, the graduation ceremony took place on the very same weekend where 77 years ago Cosmo, a decorated World War II veteran, landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day.
For Cosmo, the chance to finally receive his high school diploma is among the highlights of his life. “I think I’ve pretty much done it all,” he said. “I went back to Normandy in 2014, and now this. I guess you could say it’s the final nail in my coffin,” he joked.
The new graduate has as much energy and intelligence as his younger classmates. Family members, neighbors, fellow veterans, and a few poker buddies gathered with Cosmo at his home in Bradenton, Florida to celebrate with him and watch a live stream of the graduation ceremony. “I wish I could be there, but I’m glad to see it on the computer.”
Cosmo grew up in Wellesley, living off of Weston Road near Morses Pond, and at age 17 left the safety of our community to join the Army. As a member of the 175th Regiment, 29th Division, Private First Class Uttero landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 in the face of enemy fire. In interviews about that day, Cosmo remembers first ditching his gear in the water so he didn’t sink, and then grabbing a replacement rifle from a fallen soldier on the beach. According to reports from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Cosmo’s unit was not set to land on the beach until the day after the invasion, but due to horrific losses suffered by the 29th Division, his unit was sent in just after 12:00 p.m. Cosmo has said he was one of only three men in his unit not to be injured or killed during the invasion.
In graduation remarks to the Class of 2021, Wellesley Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David Lussier recognized Cosmo for his service to our nation and urged graduates to use his life story as inspiration for their own futures. “Regardless of where that path takes you, I hope you too will consider ways to serve your community and our country. Regardless of the form that takes, what matters most is that, like that 17-year old from Wellesley more than 70 years ago, you too choose not to be a bystander.”
Cosmo has been interviewed about his war experiences many times in recent years, and his determination is evident in both his life and his desire to get his diploma. He was thrilled to learn about a Department of Veterans Affairs program that allows school districts to award high school diplomas to qualified veterans who left school to go to war. “It surprised me, I didn’t have to study or anything,” he said.
Having achieved this goal, what does the future hold for the new graduate? “I’m looking forward to celebrating my 100th birthday, and maybe I’ll think about college,” said Cosmo with a laugh. “But not Wellesley College, I’m told it’s still mostly for women.”
Congratulations to Cosmo Uttero, a truly remarkable member of the Class of 2021.