An 84-year-old U.S. Marine’s photo was noticeably absent from his high school yearbook because as a teen, he had opted to join the military to serve during the Korean War. However, now 66 years later, the veteran has finally received his high school diploma.
On being able to achieve this milestone, Paul Mackey described himself as “surprised,” “very thankful,” and “very proud.” He explained to KSLA that graduating with the Class of ’54 at Texas High School in Texarkana was a prospect overshadowed by his desire to join the war.
“It just seemed to be the exciting thing to do in those days,” the veteran said. “You know the Korean War was going on. I had some friends that had just come back.”
In the wake of his educational sacrifice, Mackey’s military career soared. He served 10 years as a Marine, going on to join the U.S. Army Reserves in the mid-1970s and serving until 1996.
He was one of the last Korean War veterans to retire from the Reserves, according to a statement from the Texarkana Independent School District (TISD).
The Texas education code entails an allowance for veterans. School districts can award diplomas to honorably discharged veterans who served in World War II, Korea, or Vietnam, and were scheduled to graduate between 1940 through 1975, at their discretion.
“Many American students gave up their educational dreams when they left high school to enlist, and serve their country during time of war,” said Tina Veal-Gooch, TISD’s chief communications officer.
For Mackey’s wife, Anne, a retired educator, her husband’s attainment of his diploma is really something worth celebrating. “He sacrificed for his country,” she told KSLA. “It is an honor to me, as an educator, that he went back and accomplished something.”
Mackey achieved his GED while serving in the Marines, and went to college, but his recent high school diploma is the icing on the cake for this decorated veteran. Mackey hopes his achievement inspires young people to honor their own educations.
“You kids out there that see this, be smart, go to school and stay in school,” the veteran advised.
In May 2020, another U.S. veteran was awarded his high school diploma many decades after completing military service. For 91-year-old Wilbert Antill, of Warner, Ohio, the achievement was especially poignant.
Antill received his diploma from Fort Frye High School on May 23 alongside his great-grandson, James Smith.
The 91-year-old entered the Marine Corps when he was just 18, in 1948, reported The Marietta Times. He deployed to Korea three years later, serving as an airplane mechanic. He attained the rank of staff sergeant in 1952 and was honorably discharged, at which point he returned to his home in Ohio.
Antill’s post-military career on home turf saw him work (among other things) in construction, at a bakery, and later as a founding member of the Salem Township Fire Department for whom he briefly served as chief. The veteran also worked as a traveling minister.
He later became a husband, a father of 6, a grandfather of 14, a great-grandfather of 40, and a great-great-grandfather of 8.
Antill joked, “Seniors are supposed to graduate, so I waited until I was a senior to graduate.”
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