Ardmore Veteran Serves Country, Receives Diploma - - No One Gets You Closer

Ardmore Veteran Serves Country, Receives Diploma


ARDMORE, OKLAHOMA -- We hear heroic veterans stories every year but one you may not have heard is right here in Texoma.

For this Ardmore veteran, his first mission came in school and that was to get a high school diploma.

But that objective was put on hold when he was called to serve his country.

But not even a world war would stop him from completing it.  

A little house on Bailey Street in Ardmore, Oklahoma has been home to one special American since 1951.    

"That's 62...62 years that's a long time," said Edwin "Eddie" J. Willingham. "That's because I'm so old..."  

Edwin J. Willingham is 94, lives alone, but leads his life with a very simple philosophy.

"I put all my energy and efforts into whatever I do," said Willingham. "Or whatever I did and I wanted to be successful."  

Eddie does what any normal 94 year old bachelor would do.

He mows his lawn, gets his own groceries...his fridge is completely stocked, with all the essentials of course.

"Oh yes, that's why I've lasted so long, is I strictly drink milk. Plenty of it," said Willingham.

He also cooks and he even does the dishes too.    

"It's amazing, I didn't know there were so many ways you can fix eggs," said Willingham.

There's very little Eddie doesn't know, thanks to his education from the Ardmore school system.

But during his senior year at Ardmore High in 1940, he was drafted into service.

"I knew then that it would be a long time before I got the chance to come home," said Willingham.

He served in a machine gun company for three years before testing out to serve the Air Force. Eddie says the schooling he received helped him become a specialist with radar.  

"That was the second thing most important besides the atomic bomb that was developed and discovered," said Willingham.

On August 6, 1945, stationed on the island of Okinawa, Eddie watched on his radar screen as the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb.   

Something his youngest daughter Judy says was hard for him to grasp later.    

"The one thing that I see that he gets real emotional about is when he talks about how many people died instantly when that bomb was dropped," said Judy Cavanar.

It's estimated over 90,000 died as a direct result of the blast. Thousands more were injured.

'That's a lot of people and there's a lot of people there that was didn't have anything to do with the war," said Willingham.

A few days later, a second bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. Resulting in Japan's surrender…and the end to World War 2.  

There was only one mission left to complete, his high school education. Education became a cornerstone for raising his daughters, like Linda.

"Cause daddy feels like the only way you can be successful is to continue learning," said Linda Vance, Eddie's middle daughter of three.

Eddie did succeed. Though he might've been a little older than his classmates.

"They students called him grandpa can you imagine?" said Vance.

And with 94 years of education comes some sage advice on how to be successful.

"Drink a lot of milk, it's what I did," said Eddie. "Be call you can be, just like the Army stuff."

But Eddie's main mission throughout life has been simple.

"If there's anything I can do to help my fellow man or woman, let it be because I shall pass this way but once," said Willingham.    

Consider that mission accomplished.

Eddie is still passionate about learning, if there is anything he doesn't know, he'll find what he's looking for and read up on it.    

Certainly a man with a thirst for knowledge.