- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

MOUNT MORRIS, Mich. (AP) - It’s been more than 50 years since James Sutherland sat at a high school desk ready to learn. Back then, Sutherland said, the obstacles he faced at home forced him to choose a different life. So, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and decided to forgo his diploma.

All that changed with just one phone call about four months ago, according to The Flint Journal ( https://bit.ly/1BxDHnj ).

“When I talked with Mr. Sutherland, it just hit me when he said not having a high school diploma was a void in his life,” said EAJ High School Principal, Andrew Lintz. “After all he has done for his country and this community, it was an honor to be part of filling that void. Having him receive his diploma from EAJ High School this evening and with his family here, that means a lot to me, to the superintendent, Mrs. Hill, and to the entire board of education.”

Mount Morris Schools awarded Sutherland his high school diploma Jan. 27 under a Michigan act that allows school districts to award war veterans their diplomas.

“I heard (Gov. Rick Snyder) on a commercial one day,” Sutherland said. “It was quick but I heard every word of it. So, I called Mount Morris High School’s principal and here I am today.”

Sutherland, who now lives in Clio, left Mount Morris High School in 1959 to join the U.S. Army, where he served two tours in the Vietnam War during his 9.5 years of service. He earned the National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Commendation Medal and two Vietnam Campaign Medals. When he was discharged he held the rank of staff sergeant E-6.

“This diploma means the same to me as all my military medals,” Sutherland said. “I’m just honored to have it.”

After leaving the military, Sutherland was employed at General Motors for 30 years where he worked in production for two years and then as a manager for 28 more years.

He also continued to serve his community through volunteerism.

Sutherland served as a Mount Morris Athletic Booster for seven years, was recognized by state Sen. Deb Cherry with the State of Michigan Service Award for his work with the American Legion and earned the Masonic Temple’s Highest Award for a non-Mason.

He lives in Clio with his wife of 53 years, Joann Sutherland. They have two children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and he said his children were the reason he left the military.

“Every time I put that uniform on, my children thought I wasn’t coming back,” he said. “So, I retired from the military and had another job waiting on me. I just wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren that I did it, I earned a diploma.”


Information from: The Flint Journal, https://www.mlive.com/flint

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