Christmas came early for Ernie Reda, but the gift was nearly eight decades in the making.
Reda, 97, finally got his high school diploma on Monday at a Tacoma, Washington, high school after waiting 78 years. (Watch the video above or at the KING-TV website.)
Reda had planned to graduate in 1943, but he was sent to boot camp and eventually fought in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. He also took part in the Normandy invasion, according to CNN.
About two years ago, Reda’s granddaughter, Heather Anderson, started thinking about ways she could help him finally get that diploma.
She contacted Shannon Marshall, principal of Stadium High School, to see if the school might be interested in participating in “Operation Recognition,” a program that recognizes men and women who were unable to finish high school because they were drafted into the service.
“It seemed like the most honorable thing to do,” she told CNN.
It almost didn’t happen: Reda only recovered from COVID-19 five weeks ago, according to Seattle TV station KING-TV.
At Monday’s ceremony, Reda received not only a diploma but a high school yearbook from the year he would have graduated.
His reaction? “Finally!” he said to the friends and family who came to watch him graduate, according to the station.
Reda was still in a good mood when he reflected on the achievement.
“God bless everybody,” he told KING. “It’s the best Christmas I’ve ever had. It’s about time, ya know. Seventy-eight years is a long time.”