It took him a while to achieve his dream, but Jack Hetzel, a 99-year-old World War II veteran who leads the First United Methodist Church in Big Sandy, Texas, is beaming with joy after recently achieving his dream of getting a high school diploma.
“It’s very exciting,” said Hetzel, who joined Big Sandy High School’s graduation ceremony to collect his honorary diploma last Friday, to KETK.
According to Hetzel & Hetzel Enterprises, where the recent graduate is listed as president and CEO, the pastor had no more than a third-grade education but enjoyed a full military career spanning 20 years in the U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. He fought six major battles in World War II in Europe and the Korean War.
“With no more than [a] third-grade education, Jack became an instructor of ‘Military Science’ at Texas A&M University. Since retiring from the military, Jack has always been involved with entrepreneurship, creating many successful businesses and nonprofit charities which are still in operation today. Jack is ‘happiest when helping people in need,’” the company noted.
Hetzel, who had received his GED in 1948, said he was forced to drop out of school in the third grade and could not get his diploma then because the school had no record of him attending.
"I have longed to get this diploma since 1948 when I passed my GED but the school that I have attended I'd only attended the third grade and they didn't have any record of me so I then couldn't get a diploma from that school," Hetzel said.
He explained that even though he always regretted not getting his diploma he took advantage of alternative ways to learn.
“You see, when you have little education and then you have to come up through life and you have to front life with little education, you have to learn somehow,” said the preacher who will turn 100 this fall. “I used other people to be my teachers. So if I got a question, I’d go to somebody that knew and asked them the question and then I would use it in everyday life.”
On Memorial Day, Hetzel was recognized by the Texas Senate which adopted a resolution by state Sen. Bryan Hughes commending him for his achievement.
“Getting his high school diploma at his age and his background, with all he’s accomplished in life especially on this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed appropriate to give him special honors,” Hughes told KETK. “We’re proud of him. He’s someone that I represent, so I’m glad to brag about him and tell the story. It was fun for us.”
Hetzel also told the television network earlier that in addition to his academic achievement he was “blessed” to be alive at 99.
“99 years of age, that’s something to be blessed about,” he said. “I know my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that’s enough to be blessed about. How much more do I need?”