Nearly 50 years later, veteran Rick Ishmael returns to Fort Dodge to finish what he started
Nearly 50 years after he left Fort Dodge Senior High to enlist in the Marine Corps, Fort Dodge native Rick Ishmael has finally received his high school diploma.
Ishmael drove up from his home near Kansas City, Missouri, on Monday to attend the Fort Dodge Community School District Board of Education meeting, where he received an honorary diploma from FDCSD School Board President Stu Cochrane.
Originally a member of the FDSH class of 1972, Ishmael enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after his junior year in 1971 because he wanted to serve his country in a time of conflict.
“I wanted to go to Vietnam to fight,” he said. “The war was winding down and there was a bunch of us that were going, so I decided I’d quit school and I’m going.”
Ishmael wasn’t going to wait around to be drafted.
“My draft number was so high, I wasn’t even worried about that,” he said.
While he never saw combat in Vietnam, Ishmael did serve in units that deployed to Thailand and flew missions into Laos and Cambodia, he said.
He went on to serve more than 20 years in the Marines, rising to the rank of gunnery sergeant before his retirement in 1993. During Operation Desert Storm, his unit was the first combat-ready unit in theater.
Throughout his career as a Marine, Ishmael was stationed at Marine bases around the world, including in Okinawa, Japan; the Philippines; Kuwait; Bahrain and Iraq.
“I spent a lot of time overseas,” he said.
After his military retirement in 1993, Ishmael worked at the Jackson County Correctional Center near Kansas City for 20 years before retiring as a captain.
In the spring of this year, Ishmael sent a request to Superintendent Dr. Jesse Ulrich to receive his high school diploma. Ishmael had made this same request from the school district in 1984, but that request was denied. Earlier this year, while cleaning out an old footlocker, Ishmael found the original packet of information and military school certificates he had sent in 1984 and decided to try again. This time, the FDCSD was ready to honor his request.
Ishmael had earned his high school equivalency certificate in 1976, but still always wanted that FDSH diploma.
“It’s something that I wanted and it means a lot,” he said. He said the diploma means more to him than his entire file of military training certificates.
Ishmael was joined by friends and family still living in the area to watch him receive his diploma at the board meeting.
“I have to say, in my years in administration and as superintendent, this is probably one of the most exciting things I have had a chance to be a part of,” Ulrich said when introducing Ishmael to the board of education.
Ishmael was all smiles as he accepted his honorary diploma from Cochrane.
“I’ve wanted this for a long time,” Ishmael said.
Ishmael told the school board he hopes that more veterans, especially from World War II and the Korean War, reach out to receive the high school diplomas they missed out on due to being drafted or choosing to leave school to enlist and serve their country in a time of war.
“This means a lot to me,” he said. “Imagine what it would mean to them.”