|Earnest receives diploma 60 years later|
|Written by Editor|
|Friday, 06 July 2012 16:17|
By JOHN BADEN
Record Herald Writer
TIPP CITY - A Korean War veteran got the surprise of his life at Tippecanoe High School’s graduation ceremony this year.
Don Earnest, 79, had just finished leading the Pledge of Allegiance when a planned interruption delayed him from walking off the stage.
Joseph Bellas, a history teacher at Tippecanoe High School, came up and gave Earnest an honorary high school diploma, which was followed by a loud cheer from the audience.
“It was really something,” Earnest said. “I didn’t know I was going to get that.”
Bellas had previously interviewed Earnest at the school’s veterans’ presentations, when Earnest and fellow veterans Frederick Shively and Ken Williamson came to the high school and spoke to the student body about Veterans Day and defined what a veteran is. During the interview, Bellas learned about how Earnest had not finished high school.
“As soon as he left, I said, ‘I want to do something about that,’” Bellas said.
After checking Ohio’s Revised Code, Bellas found that a war veteran could receive a diploma if he was granted an honorable discharge from the service and lived in the town’s district.
Bellas then notified Tippecanoe’s board of education and the principal about what he was thinking of doing. After getting a positive reaction from both the board and the principal, Bellas ordered the diploma and contacted Don’s wife, Rosie, who was the only other person in on the plan.
Rosie said she was nervous on that day because of the fear that her husband may not stay emotionally composed, but Don stepped up to the microphone and followed the presentation of his diploma with words of gratitude and gave encouraging advice to the graduates.
While he was a diligent student and athlete at Wheeling High School in West Virginia, Don came from a poor family with 11 children, which played a role in the three times he dropped out of school in the 1940s.
The first two times, he was paid visits by the high school principal, Mr. Fisher, who would bust right through his family’s door, grab Don by the neck and drag him back to school.
“He was a super person,” Don said. “I think he was really trying to help me.”
After dropping out a third time and starting work at a men’s clothing store, he joined the Air Force at 16 ½ years old in July 1951.
“I was always treated right in the service,” Don said of the Air Force. “That’s one thing for sure I never regret.”
During his first year and a half in the Air Force, Don was not able to escape education. He spent most of his time in electronic school, learning all about aircrafts, engines and instruments inside the cockpit.
Coming from a house that had no heat, running water or electricity, Don said it was the “most amazing” experience, even though he didn’t even know what a light bulb was when he started school.
“The Air Force will really educate you,” Don said. “If you’re willing to go to school, they will send you to school.”
While he wasn’t bored with what he was picking up, Don said he was getting “antsy,” so he decided to volunteer to go to Korea, which was the reason he joined the service in the first place.
Don said that, being young, he didn’t really realize what he was getting himself into.
“At the time, it sounded exciting,” Don said.
In the first eight months in Korea, Don was in the 9th fighter bomber squadron. During that time, he was shocked at the conditions children lived in each day.
Surrounded by devastated buildings and a foul smell, children were eating out of garbage cans and living in the streets with burlap as their only clothing and rags as their shoes.
Such images lead Don to send his paycheck home to his mother to buy clothing from the Salvation Army and send the items back to him to provide for the children.
In his last two and a half months in Korea, he volunteered to be a Mosquito aircraft pilot, conducting visual reconnaissance and other necessary tasks at the front for troops.
After he came home from Korea , he worked at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and met Rosie, and they got married in 1955.
“So that meant I was stuck here,” Don said with a laugh.
Under the G.I. Bill, Don went to Patterson Co-Op to finish high school. During this time, his interest in art, especially painting, was at its peak.
After meeting with an art instructor, Don left Wright Patterson, where he was two credits shy of graduating, and attended University of Dayton, where he was able to study his interest without a high school diploma from 1956 to 1957.
“I probably have enough credits for a two-year art degree from the University of Dayton and Dayton Art Institute,” Don said.
To this day, Don said he has sold lots of paintings and teaches painting and drawing classes at Tipp-Monroe Community Services.
His love for art has been passed on to his only child, Dawn Bowman, who graduated from Tippecanoe High School in 1981. She went on to teach high school art after graduating from the University of Texas.
While his Korea days are long gone, Don still gets involved in Korean War activities for its veterans, including the Honors Flight Network, which flies World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington D.C. from April to November for free each year to see the memorials.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 14:24|