Ed Sanders dropped out of Jackson High School his junior year in 1952 and joined the U.S. Air Force to become a pilot during the Korean War.
This year – at 87 years old – he finally received his diploma.
“I never dreamed I would be able to graduate,” Sanders said. “I’m so thankful for that.”
Sanders was able to get his Jackson High diploma through a state of Michigan act that allows school boards to award diplomas to veterans who left high school to serve in World War II, the Korean War or Vietnam.
He’s graduating at the same time as his great-great niece Alex Bissell.
“I thought ‘Boy this is going to be really special,’” Bissell said.
While the novel coronavirus has caused changes to Bissell’s senior year and graduation, walking across the same stage as her great-great uncle during the Aug. 8 graduation ceremonies will be special, she said.
“That’s the best part of all of this,”Bissell said. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Sanders has already picked up his cap and gown and diploma.
“I want to thank Principal (Monica Pierce) for helping me out,” Sanders said. “She’s really a wonderful woman. She made it happen. This 87-year-old Korean War veteran got his diploma.”
After taking his first plane ride at 15 years old when a flight school moved into the Jackson County Airport and offered free rides, Sanders was hooked. The owner allowed him to take free lessons if he worked at the school.
When Sanders turned 18 and dropped out of school to join the Air Force, he wanted to be a fighter pilot. But, he ended up in training to become a B-47 bomber pilot.
“Next thing I knew I was in Korea, wishing I was back in Jackson,” Sanders said.
The bomber was the fastest on the market at the time, which meant it was fun to fly but could also be scary, Sanders said. Sometimes it was hard to get it up to speed to take off and pilots had to frantically abort the attempt before it was too late.
“We had a lot of scary moments over there,” Sanders said. “My first day there, I thought it would be my last. You can’t imagine what it was like.”
But there were also good times, Sanders said. Soldiers would pitch pennies onto the runway to flatten them and crank Hank Williams music when they could break radio silence.
“You could really get some good hillbilly music on that radio,” he said. “I used to sit there with the canopy up and back. I used to sit there with the earphones on, listen to hillbilly music.”
While home on leave, Sanders saw a picture of a former classmate who he knew of in high school but never dated.
“(I) thought she was the prettiest girl in Jackson, so I asked her would she wait for me, and she said she would,” Sanders said. “When I got out, we got married.”
Sanders and his wife, Patricia, have three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He served four years on active duty and four years as a reserve officer and was discharged in 1960 after being stationed everywhere from Morocco to Alaska.
Out of the military, Sanders worked various factory jobs before retiring from Ann Arbor Tool. He hasn’t piloted a plane since his time in the Air Force.
Finally getting his high school diploma is a dream come true.
“I never dreamed I could do it,” Sanders said. “I’d given up on it.”
© 2020 MLive.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.