World War II veteran receives long-awaited high school diploma

Jack Koolik, 90, participates in Darnell-Cookman graduation ceremony

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the help of his daughters, 90-year-old Jack Koolik received something Monday that had been missing from his life for 71 years — a high school diploma.

Koolik left high school in 1942 to join the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the Air Force, and fight in World War II, and he never received his high school diploma.

On Monday, Koolik took his place on stage at the Times-Union Center with students from Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School, where his daughter, Bonnie Sandler, works.

Jack Koolik, center, receives his high school diploma. He is 90 years old.

Sandler had learned about a program implemented last year by the Florida Legislature that makes it possible for people like Koolik to receive their diploma, if they left school to join the military and were honorably discharged. She and her sisters took advantage of the program for their father.

"It's a wonderful thing my kids did for me," Koolik said.

Sandler said her school graciously agreed to honor her father during Monday's graduation ceremony.

"Your commitment to our country and your service in combat is a model for us all," Sandler told her father during the ceremony. "We thank you for serving our country so courageously... congratulations."

Koolik left high school in Brooklyn, New York, a little over 71 years ago. He was assigned to a radar unit looking for low-flying planes during World War II. During his military service, Koolik, who has been living in Jacksonville since 1990, received several medals, including the World War II Victory Medal and the American Service Medal.

"I left high school to go to war to keep the country at peace," Koolik said. "Everybody's hand joined together (and) we had a victory.

"I feel very proud to be an American. I wish the boys wouldn't be losing their lives."

After the war, Koolik returned home, got married and life got in the way, so he never went back to get his diploma — until Monday.

"(It's) wonderful," he said. "Like a dream world."

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.

An anchor and reporter for The Local Station since 1985 and still occasionally sits on the anchor desk and contributes major stories.