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More than 50 years later, high school grants diploma to Vietnam veteran

By RICK KAMBIC | Tribune News Service | Published: May 18, 2017

More than 50 years after leaving Mundelein High School in Mundelein, Ill. and eventually heading to Vietnam, Stanley Spooner walked onstage and received his high school diploma.

The May 14 graduation ceremony at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates featured 498 Mundelein High School graduates, including the 68-year-old Spooner.

Spooner said his father was in the Navy and his family relocated many times throughout his childhood, enough that he was held back two years. Spooner attended Mundelein High School while his father worked at the Great Lakes Naval Base in North Chicago.

A desire to follow family tradition and serve in the military came into conflict with getting his high school diploma when the United States government began talking about a draft.

"I pre-enlisted in the summer of 1965," Spooner said. "I was about to be an 18-year-old high school sophomore through no fault of my own. I wanted to be what I wanted to be, not what they wanted me to be. Instead of risk being drafted into general infantry I signed up to be a marine, like my maternal grandfather."

Spooner and his company were sent to Vietnam on July 31, 1967, according to his personal records. Officials at Mundelein High School said Spooner would have been part of the 1968 graduating class.

After 18 months in Vietnam and two years in Virginia, Spooner said he immediately began supporting his family with whatever jobs he could find.

"My responsibility is always to my family first and me second," Spooner said.

However, in 1972 Spooner said he went to the Department of Veterans Affairs seeking help with emotional struggles.

"Post traumatic stress disorder wasn't a recognized condition at that time," Spooner said. "They told me to deal with it. So I climbed into a truck where I could be by myself. I figured it was safer for the world that way."

Autumn Majack, one of Spooner's daughters, compiled her thoughts in a letter to Mundelein High School. She described witnessing her father's flashbacks and night horrors from the few nights he was at home and not on the road.

"Since my father isolated himself from the public and his family, I missed out on really truly knowing him until I grew into an adult," Majack said. "It was then that I recognized what his sacrifices were."

But after 44 years and more than six million miles logged, Spooner said his employer strongly encouraged him and a few others to retire in April 2016. Spooner said he still needed a part-time job to avoid dipping into savings.

"I took and passed the GED test when I was in the service, but when I was at a job fair last year a lot of the companies said they would only recognize a high school diploma," Spooner said.

Now living in Utah, Spooner said an official from the Salt Lake Community College was at that job fair and decided to help. Spooner said the college discovered federal laws that allow veterans to work with the high schools they dropped out of.

Salt Lake Community College contacted Mundelein High School's registrar, according to school records.

Meeting minutes show the School District 120 Board of Education on Nov. 15, 2016 unanimously approved a measure allowing veterans who fought in World War II, Vietnam or Korea to get a diploma if they were supposed to graduate from Mundelein High School but instead received a general educational development (GED) certificate.

As 498 students took to the stage Sunday afternoon, Spooner was the first to cross. His daughter Autumn and wife Susan were waiting at the other end.

"Stanley has always considered himself uneducated," Susan Spooner said. "He attended high school, has a GED, and received various types of training. Still, this diploma, to him, says 'I'm educated.' We're so grateful."

Stanley Spooner said he was able to get a part-time job transporting freight train conductors home after their shifts ended, but quietly agreed with his wife, saying he's always wanted a high school diploma.

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