A graduation in Carlisle– 60 years in the making
Carlisle, Pa. — Willis George Gordon is living proof you are never too old to be a high school graduate.
In a salute to him and his military service, Carlisle Area School District administrators recently hand-delivered a diploma to the 81-year-old Korean War veteran.
A Carlisle native living in Dillsburg, Gordon would have graduated with the Lamberton High School Class of 1951, but instead he quit school at 17 and enlisted in the Army in 1949.
It was from the school of hard knocks that Gordon learned the most valuable lessons in life.
A self-described wild child, he used to skip out on classes partway through the day to wash dishes at the Hamilton Restaurant. Gordon then spent the money at a local pool hall.
“I was rowdy,” he said.
From the time he joined the
military, his life took an about-face.
“The Army changed me all the way,” Gordon said. “I learned how to get the chip off my shoulder. If you go into the Army, you get straightened out real quick.”
In three years of military service, Gordon advanced to the rank of tech sergeant and earned a Bronze Star for bravery in battle while deployed as a radioman with the 3rd Armored Division.
After being discharged from the Army, Gordon got married, settled in Dillsburg and worked 44 years in the service department of the Royer Buick dealership.
He never finished high school. He never thought it necessary. Gordon is from a generation where an individual could land a decent, well-paying job without a diploma or the equivalent.
“I made a good living... a good retirement,” Gordon said. “Hard work got me to where I was.”
Yet Donna Gordon thought her husband deserved a diploma for what he went through in the military. She contacted the district last year after learning the Carlisle school board had a policy that offers diplomas to eligible veterans who left school prior to graduation to serve in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Gary Worley, assistant to the superintendent for secondary education, reviewed the application and researched school records on Willis Gordon. “His grades were pretty good,” Worley said. “He passed every course he was carrying.”
Honor to serve
The review found that Gordon qualified for a diploma. Carlisle school district invited Gordon and his family to the June 7 graduation ceremony for the Class of 2012. In tribute to Gordon’s service, the plan was to have an Army colonel award the first diploma of the evening to the Korean War veteran. However, poor health prevented Gordon from attending.
As an alternative, Worley and High School Principal Jay Rauscher drove to Dillsburg and hand-delivered the diploma to Gordon.
“We were honored to have the opportunity to do that,” Worley said.
“He and his wife were extremely appreciative,” Rauscher added. “It was an honor for me and a pleasure — knowing he made the choice to serve our country.”
Gordon thought it was nice of administrators to go the distance to deliver the diploma. “I have a lot of respect for those people,” the veteran said of Worley and Rauscher.