James W. Hunt Sr. dropped out of North High School to join the Marines in February 1973.
After 40 years, he finally received his honorary diploma Monday night at the Akron school board meeting.
Hunt enlisted in the military voluntarily after the draft was suspended and before the Vietnam War ended.
After serving stateside for two and a half years, Hunt credits the Marine Corps for giving him the skills necessary to hold down a job for the past 40 years. He also credits the Corps, and various night jobs ever since, as the reasons why he was never able to go back for his diploma.
“Because of my job schedule, I was unable to do it,” said Hunt, 58.
He used a GI Bill to attend night classes after returning from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in 1976. After leaving trade school, he worked third shift as a machine operator for 27 years.
He was never able to get his diploma because of the long and late hours.
So after his last employer downsized two months ago, Hunt started studying for his high school diploma.
“That’s when my wife told me I could [apply for] my diploma,” Hunt said.
His wife, Saundra, has been an integral part in finding resources, programs, diplomas and medals for many local veterans including her husband.
Saundra started a military families group looking for support and has since formed a network of families who live the military life.
Family of service
Their son, James Jr., and daughter, Jasmine, followed their father’s footsteps after they graduated from Firestone High School. Jasmine enlisted in the Air Force in 1998. James Jr., a third generation Jarhead, joined the Marines in 2001, two months after Sept. 11.
His son’s departure was unexpected, Saundra said. It left her seeking the company of those “in the same boat.”
“My son went into the Marine Corps and there was no support group out here at the time, so I started one,” she said.
Saundra Hunt founded Family and Friends Connected in 2001.
As the support group’s director, she’s made connections and found ways to help her husband and others.
“All of this time I’ve learned so much and come into contact with so many people,” she said.
Some of those folks, like her husband, had left school early to serve their country.
“For those who dropped out of school to join the military, I’ve learned so much,” she said.
Saundra contacted Akron Public Schools this year after helping her husband fill out an honorary diploma application.
Since 2003, Ohio law has allowed school boards to grant honorary diplomas to honorably discharged veterans of World War II, the Korean conflict or the Vietnam War.
James Hunt Sr. joined the Marines toward the end of the Vietnam War as public opposition mounted.
“It’s a sigh of relief,” he said of finally getting his diploma.
And he’s not done yet. Hunt said plans to attend another trade school to take up computer programming.
He hopes to graduate by the time he’s 60 and then work some more.
“Truthfully, my plan was to work until I’m 62, but I don’t know now. I might work until I’m 65.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.