August 8 will be a milestone for Alex Bissell, a senior at Jackson High School in Jackson, Michigan, who will receive her diploma on that day.
But it is also the same day when her great-great-uncle, 87-year-old Edward Sanders, will also accept his diploma, decades after attending the same high school.
Sanders was just 15, when he started learning how to fly planes and by 18, he was a junior at JHS, but he put his formal education on hold and decided to join the Air Force and fight in the Korean War.
While he initially wanted to be a fighter pilot, he became a B-47 pilot, “Next thing I knew I was in Korea, wishing I was back in Jackson,” Sanders said. “We had a lot of scary moments over there. My first day there, I thought it would be my last. You can’t imagine what it was like.”
“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.”
When he was back home, he spotted a photo of a girl who’d gone to his school, Patricia would become his wife after his stint in the Air Force was done, and they’d go on to have three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He said he “thought she was the prettiest girl in Jackson, so I asked her would she wait for me, and she said she would,” Sanders said of his wife. “When I got out, we got married.”
Now this year, taking advantage of a Michigan law allowing veterans who dropped out for World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War to receive their diplomas, Sanders decided it was time for him to get it.
It was also the graduation year for his great-great-niece, and the two are excited. “I thought, ‘Boy this is going to be really special,’” Bissell said, adding that she can’t wait to cross that stage. “That’s the best part of all of this,” she said. “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
While Sanders said he’d “given up on” the idea of getting his diploma, he’s thankful for those who made it possible. “I want to thank Principal [Monica Pierce] for helping me out,” he said. “She’s really a wonderful woman. She made it happen.”
“I never dreamed I would be able to graduate. I’m so thankful for that.”