TACOMA, Wash. — Two octogenarians received their high school diplomas Thursday night from Tacoma Public Schools — more than 60 years after they left Lincoln High School early to serve their country during the Korean War.
Rex Raymond, 81, of Tacoma, and Darrell Wilber, 82, of Lakewood were both students at Lincoln and would have graduated with the class of 1952. But they both left school to join the U.S. Navy.
Tacoma School District policy authorizes the diplomas for honorably discharged veterans of World War II or the Korean War who have “substantial ties to the district” but who did not finish high school due to their military service.
“This is an honor,” Raymond said of the diploma bestowed on him by the school board. “I’ve wanted this thing for 60 years. It took me that long to get it — the darned teachers kept failing me. But I’ve got it now. Thank you all so much.”
“I’d like to say how much I appreciate this,” Wilber added.
Raymond served as an engineer on a hospital ship during the war, was discharged from the Navy in 1955, and opened an automotive shop in Parkland in an old fire house. He also taught automotive classes at Lincoln from 1985 to 1998.
Raymond recounted his war experiences Thursday night, as he described picking up wounded soldiers on far away beaches.
“Here I was, 17,the first time away from home — and to see this type of stuff,” he said. “I’d look down at these young fellows, and they’d be crying and praying, ‘Help me.’ They were the same age I was.”
Wilber also served in the Navy, and was discharged in 1954. He later started a construction business and was a member of the board of the Tacoma Vocational School, the precursor of Bates Technical College.
“When I went into the service, I really didn’t know what I was giving up,” Wilber said. “I didn’t know to appreciate home and many other things.”
He said the Navy gave him “a place to grow up.’
“It also made me realize the lack of education I had,” he said. He described how he started building houses after leaving the service.
“I was dealing with engineers and architects,” he said. “I can remember writing words on my hand, and going and looking them up. I had to self-educate.”