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Delayed by war, Class of 1943 finally holds senior prom

The class of 1943 graduated during World War II, and chose to serve their country instead holding a senior prom. Seven decades later, they reunited for the dance they never got to have. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

 

It took seven decades, but the Hillhouse High School Class of 1943 finally had its senior prom.

Prom for the members of the Greatest Generation was cancelled 70 years ago when the young men in the Connecticut school — and across the country — were called on to go defend the United States during World War II. But as of Sunday, May 19, the high school rite of passage was no longer something these former high schoolers had to live without.

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Grace Duffy dances with her stand-in date Dave Lenahan at the Hillhouse High School class of 1943 reunion and prom.

When it's a senior prom for senior citizens, the rules are different. First of all, the event started at noon, everyone could drink alcohol, and the dress code was, well, comfortable.

Many were dropped off not by their parents, but by their children.

And with attendees now in their late 80s, dancing was left to only the most adventurous souls.

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Honey Pegnataro, right, shares a toast with some of her classmates at the Hillhouse High School class of 1943 reunion and prom.

Members of the Class of '43 say they did not feel cheated when school administrators told them to stop planning their prom so many years ago. Rather, they felt it was they were fulfilling their responsibility as Americans.

"Our country had been attacked, and we felt very strongly that whatever we did to support our country, we would do," said 87-year-old Marilyn White Unger. "So we didn't feel any sense of personal loss, because the boys were fighting."

Unger helped plan the reunion/prom, along with Anthony Pegnataro, 87, then class president who served in Guam and Okinawa during the war. Some of their classmates never came back from the war, and even more have perished in the years since.

"I open the paper every morning, I look at the obituary page and I see two or three more classmates that have gone up to their maker," said Pegnataro.

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Marilyn Unger pins on her corsage at the Hillhouse High School class of 1943 reunion and prom.

He estimates that of the 1,250 members of their graduating class, prom organizers have only been able to get ahold of about 10 percent of them. The group has been getting together every five years since 1946.

And like nearly everything else about this prom, he did it the old fashioned way -- no Facebook, just phone calls.

Just as if the prom had been held during the 1940s, on Sunday the group danced to the likes of the Glen Miller band. Though the music may have been the same, but the moves were different -- with some prom goers in wheelchairs.

"Time's running out on all of us. Ya know, how many more years do we have?" said Pegnataro. "And we want to enjoy every year we got."

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Honey and Tony Pegnataro

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