TACOMA, Wash. — It’s been nearly 80 years since Ernie Reda walked out of Stadium High School in Tacoma.
Reda is a 97-year-old World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the Normandy Invasion. He was a sharpshooter in the Army and his unit received four awards during his three years of service.
His granddaughter, Heather Anderson, said his latest honor means a lot to the family.
“Grandpa just survived COVID-19 about five weeks ago, so I’ve been rushing to make this special day happen,” Anderson said.
Anderson worked closely with the principal of Stadium High School as well as the district superintendent to leverage “Operation Recognition.” Operation Recognition is being instituted through individual school districts to award full high school diplomas to qualifying veterans like Reda.
An intimate gathering of family and military members were on hand at Stadium High School on Monday as Reda was honored with his diploma and a rare hardcopy of his 1943 yearbook.
Reda held his diploma to the sky as he yelled “Finally” through his mask.
“God bless everybody," Reda said. "It’s the best Christmas I’ve ever had. It’s about time, ya know. Seventy-eight years is a long time."
Reda said he hasn’t been inside the school in all of those years and still remembers the moment when he finally returned home from war. He recalls walking off the ship in Tacoma’s harbor and looking up to see Stadium High School on the hill.
“It’s the first thing I saw,” he said.