Oklahoma WWII Vet Touches Lives With Battle Against Illiteracy

Monday, March 4th 2013, 7:10 pm
By: News On 6

An Oklahoma man's journey to learn how to read is touching lives all around the world.

Cookson, Oklahoma resident Ed Bray made his national television debut last Friday night on the CBS Evening News.

He's an 89-year old World War II veteran who just read his first book.

His story is remarkable for what he did - World War II veteran, D-Day survivor, awarded two Purple Hearts - and for what he never learned to do.

CBS News: WWII Veteran Wins Battle Against Lifelong Foe

"Toughest thing that ever happened to me in my life is not being able to read," Bray said.

That is, until he met Dr. Tobi Thompson at Northeastern State University.

"Eighty-nine years old. We don't see that," Thompson said.

She still gets misty just thinking of it. She said Bray could write his own name, but couldn't always identify it in print.

They started small, using some of his favorite song lyrics as guides.

Dr. Thompson is director of the new Wadley Reading and Technology Center at NSU, the state of the art facility opened last October.

It has 21 individual reading rooms and is currently helping around 90 students a week. Most of those are elementary kids who are struggling in school.

"What we try to do here is tap in to their interests," Thompson said.

She said it's rare to find an adult who has made it nine decades without learning how to read, but, she adds, adult illiteracy is more common than most people think.

Bray is now reading at a third grade level and Thompson said his story is an inspiration for anyone who questions whether it's too late to learn.

"His quote that is now all over NSU is, ‘Get in there and learn, baby, now, because you're not going to learn in that pine box,' and that's something that I think we all need to take to heart," Thompson said.

Ed Bray is still taking lessons at NSU twice a week. Dr. Thompson said his next goal is to go to college and get a degree. She has no doubt he can do it.