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Local High School Holds Early Graduation For Military Dad’s Daughter

(Photo Courtesy: Burchfield Family/CBS)

(Photo Courtesy: Burchfield Family/CBS)

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BETHEL PARK (CBS) — Jim Burchfield, of the Bethel Park area, is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is shipping out tonight to Afghanistan.

But he will be taking along a once-in-a-lifetime memory: his daughter’s high school graduation.

The military runs deep through three generations of Major Jim Burchfield’s family.

“My father was in the Army during World War II, and his brothers,” said Burchfield. “I probably influenced the boys. As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a Marine.”

Deployments have forced Burchfield, like so many others who defend our country, to miss special moments like birthdays and anniversaries.

Moments that a 17-year-old Melanie Burchfield has worn bravely.

But with Major Burchfield leaving his home for his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, he’ll miss his baby girl’s high school graduation.

CBS’s Michelle Miller: “When you got word that your husband was not going to be here what went through your mind?”

Patti Burchfield, Melanie’s stepmother: “A million and 12 things. How are we going tell her? How was she going to react?”

Jim Burchfield: “Finally, we just sat her down in the bedroom and she broke down into tears.”

Melanie Burchfield: “At first it was like shocking, and it like made me angry.”

Miller: “Angry at who? At him?”

Melanie: “Just angry that like… the fact that he couldn’t be there.”

Jim: “And she said, ‘You’re not going. And I said, ‘Well, that’s okay Mel. I’ll do something really special to make sure we make up for it somehow.’”

Burchfield’s something special began with an email to the Bethel Park High School principal.

“He requested that he take a few photos with his daughter with her cap and gown on,” said Dr. Zeb Jansante, the principal. “My immediate thoughts were, ‘Wow. We want to do more than a simple photo.’”

On Wednesday, March 27, Bethel Park hosted its first mock graduation and after-party. All for just one student, and the dad who is known as a hero to many in his community.

“What our military does for our country, it’s very, very important to us, so we responded,” said Dr. Jansante.

Decked out in her cap and gown, Melanie stood next to her father in his formal greens.

“It was very special,” said Jim.

“I got my diploma and I looked up and I saw my Dad and he was just smiling back at me,” said Melanie. “That made me tear up.”

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