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45 years after leaving high school for Navy, Lansing-area man gets diploma

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Photo of Dave DunckelMichigan Public Act 181 benefits war-era veterans

In 1974, as the Vietnam War was coming to an end, 17-year-old David Dunckel left his friends and classmates at Lansing Eastern High School to join the Navy, choosing to serve his country a year short of graduating.

“As the war was winding down, I thought I would ‘miss my chance’ and not serve in combat like so many family members had before me,” said Dunckel, now 62.

While he would not go to Vietnam – Dunckel served aboard a nuclear submarine as a torpedoman during the Vietnam era, deploying around the world – he would ultimately serve nearly 30 years in the Navy, Army and National Guard, including a combat tour in Iraq in 2006-07. A recipient of the Bronze Star, he would rise to the rank of Command Sergeant Major.

Since leaving the service five years ago, Dunckel has carved out a successful professional career, in both the private and public sectors, as an expert in veteran employment and quality of life issues. He currently serves his fellow veterans as a Strategy Specialist with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.

But something has always nagged at him – that sense of not finishing something important.

And so now, 45 years after his father signed a waiver for Dunckel to enter the Navy after his junior year (“Mom wasn’t so pleased,” he says), he will finally receive his diploma from Eastern High School.

Dunckel’s graduation is made possible through Michigan Public Act 181 of 2001, which authorizes school boards to award high school diplomas to honorably discharged veterans who left high school to serve during World War II, Korea and Vietnam eras.

On Sept. 5, with some of his classmates in attendance, Dunckel will be awarded his diploma in a special ceremony at the Lansing School District Board of Education meeting. The Grand Ledge father of four and grandfather of eight has maintained contact with many high school friends, even attending a recent reunion of the Eastern Quakers’ Class of 1975.

“I always felt a sense of not finishing something because I never graduated with my friends,” Dunckel said. “A handful of those friends will be attending the ceremony, and for that I am extremely grateful.”

Hailing from a long line of patriots, Dunckel also appreciates the meaning behind Public Act 181. His father, uncles, grandfather and pretty much every male role model in his life served in combat dating back to World War I. When Dunckel was 8, his older brother enlisted in the Navy and went to Vietnam as part of a River Patrol Boat Squadron.

“Public Act 181 shows Michiganders that we care about the sacrifices many veterans made to keep this nation strong,” he said. “Having a high school diploma, after 45 years, feels like one of my greatest accomplishments.”

For more information, or to apply for a qualifying high school diploma, visit