Veteran's mission accomplished

The Baltimore Sun

Too distracted by a desire to follow his father and brother into military service during World War II, John "Joe" Fisher admits he often skipped school as a teenager and wasn't much interested when he did attend class.

In 1945, Fisher was 16 and had completed the seventh grade at what is now Randallstown High when his mother, Evelyn, agreed to sign papers that would allow him to enlist in the U.S. Navy -- a year before he would be old enough to enlist on his own.

"I wouldn't stay in school," he said last week while he leafed through a manila folder filled with military memories, including photos showing him with a dozen fellow recruits in an engineer school battalion. "Everyone else was going off to the service, and I wanted to get in, too."

That summer after seventh grade, Fisher dropped out of school and headed to boot camp in Bainbridge. It would take more than six decades -- and plenty of prodding from his wife -- but this month, Fisher finally got his high school diploma.

The Carroll County school board presented Fisher with an honorary diploma during a recent meeting in Westminster.

School systems across the state have been awarding honorary high school diplomas to military veterans since 2000, when the General Assembly passed a law encouraging it.

The last time Carroll school officials bestowed such an honor was in June 2003, said spokeswoman Carey Gaddis.

Fisher, 77, served in the Navy until 1948. He then joined the Navy's inactive Reserve before joining the Marines in 1951.

In 1954, he married the former Dorothy Marie Mann. He and Dorothy settled in Finksburg and raised two sons, John and David. Fisher spent about a decade volunteering with the Reese Volunteer Fire Co. He retired from his crane-operating job with a Cockeysville builder in 1993.

Through all of life's twists and turns, Fisher said he never found the right time to go back to school to earn the high school diploma his wife had long encouraged him to get.

"In 1988, she said I should try to get my GED, but then I had a hernia," he said. "In the 1990s, she suggested it again, but then I had a double hernia."

Earlier this year, he decided to seriously pursue a General Educational Development certificate. When he called the school system to inquire about how to sign up for classes, he was encouraged to apply for an honorary high school diploma instead.

As Fisher pondered what to wear to his "graduation" two weeks ago, his sons assured him that casual attire would be fine.

Sitting in the living room of the Finksburg home that he and his wife moved into in 1959, Fisher reflected on the day he was given the honorary diploma. He said "it felt good, but funny" to finally get it.

Then, he paused and lowered his sky-blue eyes. After a few quiet moments, he said that as rewarding as it felt to finally get the diploma, that day at the Board of Education was bittersweet.

"My wife wanted me to have [a diploma], but she didn't get to see it," he said. "She died in January."

Nonetheless, he said, his wife's emphasis on education has left an indelible imprint on the family.

Their granddaughter Jackie attends medical school in Florida. Another granddaughter Rachel works for a California company that connects job candidates with employers.

His grandson Christopher is a licensed practical nurse at Lorien, a nursing and rehabilitative center in Taneytown, and is studying to become a registered nurse.

"She made sure they all got schooling," Fisher said. "They're pretty smart."

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