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Lifelong learner
by Nathan Orme
Dec 03, 2010 | 2308 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Nathan Orme
John Crabtree, a military veteran and former Reno firefighter, was awarded an honorary diploma Thursday, 50 years after he dropped out of Sparks High School to join the Navy to help his family.
Tribune/Nathan Orme John Crabtree, a military veteran and former Reno firefighter, was awarded an honorary diploma Thursday, 50 years after he dropped out of Sparks High School to join the Navy to help his family.
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RENO — Fifty years ago, John Crabtree had a good reason to leave Sparks High School before graduating and join the military.

“There was no work here and my mom was a single mom raising two teenage boys,” Crabtree said. “I thought I’d help better by joining the Navy.”

Today, after a lifetime of service to his country and community, he has just as good a reason to get his diploma at the age of 67.

“It was a goal I had, something I wanted,” Crabtree said. “My youngest son, who is 28, said, ‘Why dad?’ I said, ‘You’ve got one, why can’t I have one.’”

On Thursday, Crabtree fulfilled his goal thanks to Operation Recognition. Created in 2003 by the Nevada Legislature, the program allows school districts to issue a standard high school diploma to qualified veterans. To qualify, the veteran must have served in the United States armed forces between Sept. 16, 1940, and May 7, 1975 — the World War II through Vietnam era.

Crabtree’s enlistment came just as the United States was beginning to become heavily involved in the Vietnam conflict. He began to learn about being a mechanic at Sparks High School in auto shop class — his favorite because he got to work on his 1948 Studebaker — and he continued that trade in the military as a diesel mechanic.

Though Crabtree spent seven of his 12 years in the Navy on board ship, he always brought a piece of home with him by serving on the USS Washoe County. The ship took him to the South China Sea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam. In fact, it was while on the ship that Crabtree received word he had been drafted.

“I got that notice four years later (after he enlisted),” Crabtree said. “I threw it over the side of the ship. It’s floating around the Philippines somewhere.”

After his service in the Navy concluded, Crabtree continued as a member of the Naval Reserve while building a career as a Reno firefighter. He met his wife, Jackie, through a co-worker at the fire department. He will celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary on Tuesday. He retired from the military in 1982 and from the fire department in 1997.

While raising a family and protecting the northern Nevada community, Crabtree always felt something was missing by not having graduated high school.

“He’s always wanted it,” Jackie said. “It bothered him that he never got it.”

When he received word he would be receiving his honorary diploma, Crabtree was excited, his wife said.

“It kind of took a big weight off his shoulders,” she said.

Caleb Cage, executive director of the Office of Veterans Services in south Reno, presented Crabtree with his diploma in a small ceremony Thursday afternoon. Charlie Walsh, current Sparks High School assistant principal, also gave Crabtree a school ROTC coin and a Railroaders track T-shirt in honor of Crabtree’s days on the track team.

“We always want to honor the past at Sparks High School as well as prepare for the future,” Walsh said.

While the high school diploma didn’t require any homework, Crabtree does intend to hit the books. He plans to take the three classes needed to earn his associate of arts degree in fire science from Truckee Meadows Community College. He also wants to take a few fun classes for the sake of learning.

“I want to take welding,” he said. “I’ve got a welder at home and I don’t know how to use it.”
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