JACKSONVILLE – A World War II veteran graduated from a Jacksonville high school more than 71 years after he dropped out to fight in Europe.
Jack Koolik received his diploma Monday with students from Darnell-Cookman Middle and High School. Like the rest of the graduates, the 90-year-old wore a cap and gown for the ceremony.
In 1942, Koolik left his school in Brooklyn, New York, when he was 18 to join the military.
Koolik was assigned to a radar unit looking for low-flying planes in Italy and received several medals for his service during the war.
Since last year, veterans who left school in any state to join the military and were honorably discharged can apply to receive a Florida high school diploma.
His daughter, Bonnie Sandler, initiated the process with her twin sisters, Susan Pilcer and Helene Saphire, both of East Brunswick, New Jersey.
They wanted to honor their father for his lifelong devotion to his country and family.
“My dad sacrificed a lot and worked long, hard hours for us so we would have the opportunity to go to college and be successful,” said Sandler, who is the school’s math department chairwoman.
When Koolik enlisted in the military, the U.S. had just declared war on the Nazi-led Axis powers.
“I was undecided what I wanted to do with my life,” Koolik told The Florida Times Union.
After the military, he worked as a silk screen printer and married Elaine Koolik, whom he’d known since high school.
Elaine died at age 78 in 2007.
“He was so madly in love with my mom,” said his daughter Saphire, who travelled to Jacksonville to attend the ceremony. “They used to walk on the beach holding hands. They were very much in love . so I am sure she is just glowing over this for him.”