Denied by war, vet finally walks with Central grads
The class of 1945 at Oklahoma’s Merritt High School had six students.
Half couldn’t walk across the stage at graduation because of service to country during World War II.
Among them was Edward Reed Jr.—once thought killed in combat.
On Monday, he was very much alive and experiencing things denied by war and circumstance seven decades ago.
Escorted by his graduate granddaughter, Destinee, 17, and his son, Central High School teacher Ed Reed III, Reed Jr., 86, received an honorary diploma during Central’s commencement ceremony at Stocker Stadium. A throng of attendees, including Central’s 323 graduates, gave Reed Jr. a standing ovation as he walked to and from the stage.
Attired in a suit with a cap on his head that noted his service in the 82nd Airborne, Reed Jr. said he didn’t feel like he’d “earned the right” to wear Central’s red graduation gown Monday.
“Let the kids who earned it wear them,” Reed Jr. said in an interview last week. “It’s just an honor to walk with my granddaughter.”
A prolific student who’ll attend Colorado Mesa University with an eye on a career in music, Destinee Reed said she jumped at the chance to include her grandfather on her graduation day.
“How many people get a chance to walk with their grandparents?” she asked.
Reed Jr. arrived in France three days after the D-Day invasion, one week before his 17th birthday. He later served in the 79th Infantry Division under the command of Gen. George S. Patton. Reed Jr. was the youngest of eight siblings, with seven sisters.
His mother, Etta, was scheduled to walk and accept her son’s high school diploma from Merritt High School.
But two days before graduation, she was told in a letter from the U.S. Army her son was missing in action and presumed dead. The superintendent of schools went ahead and issued her a posthumous diploma. Etta thought her son was dead for a full month before he turned up in a full body cast at a hospital in France.
It marked the first of Reed Jr.‘s two Purple Hearts awarded by the U.S. Army.
Etta never spoke to her son about accepting his posthumous diploma, according to Reed Jr.‘s wife, Patta Leigh.
“She told me it was the hardest thing she had ever experienced,” she said. “I hope no young man’s mother ever has to experience what his mother did.”
While denying him his high school commencement ceremony, World War II continued to frustrate life celebrations. He missed two college graduation ceremonies because of various surgeries—Reed Jr. counts numerous medical procedures on knees and shoulders stemming from war wounds.
Eventually earning a master’s degree, Reed Jr. spent 36 years in education as a teacher, administrator and principal before retiring from Jefferson County schools in 1986. The family retired to Gunnison and eventually Grand Junction,
Ed Reed III, who’s retiring after 35 years of teaching at Central, orchestrated his father’s diploma walk and secretly restored a 1941 Chevrolet pickup to present to his father later on Monday: a gift like any graduate might get, Reed III said.
“This was the hot car when he was a kid.”