That was one of the greatest things that I think our government ever did. Because it allowed people like me who had meager means, financial means, to get a good education. —Ken Garrett

TORREY, Wayne County — Millions of Americans served in the military during World War II.

To honor military service members — even those who never actually went into combat — the GI bill was created to pay for their education. It was how the nation showed its gratitude for their many sacrifices, and it changed many lives.

On his ranch in southern Utah, Ken Garrett doesn’t get around as easily as he used to. It’s been years since he was on horseback, and the soon-to-be 91-year-old's flying days are long gone.

It was 70 years ago that Garrett put on a uniform and trained to go into action. He signed up to fight, partly out of patriotism, partly because he dreamed of being a pilot.

“I served my country and learned how to fly at the same time,” Garrett said.

He trained to fly bombers: the B-25, the B-26 and later the A-25. He was assigned to the expected invasion of Japan but never got there.

The atomic bomb ended the war just a few days before Garrett would have fought for his country.

By then, a grateful nation created a path to the future. The GI Bill paid for tuition and books, even for soldiers and sailors who never fought.

“That was one of the greatest things that I think our government ever did,” Garrett said. "Because it allowed people like me who had meager means, financial means, to get a good education."

A boy from a poor family of nine kids in Nephi graduated from law school. He became a high-profile personal injury lawyer in Orange County, California.

“As it turned out, being a trial attorney was my forte,” he said.

The poor kid from Nephi went on to have a remarkable life, crossing paths with the rich and famous, including celebrities from show business, politics and even the White House. His family has photos of him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Midway through life, Garrett bought a thousand-acre ranch in Utah.

For years, he regularly piloted himself back and forth between Utah and California. Now, in his retirement, he still does some ranch chores. He sometimes reflects on a life totally changed by his service as a noncombat veteran, and by his gift from the nation of an education.

“That’s one of the biggest blessings that I had,” Garrett said.

He still has his old flight jacket and cap.

"I can't believe I was that small," Garrett said with a laugh. "Too tight."

Roger Perkins, director of the Veterans Support Center at the University of Utah, said the bill helped shape a generation.

1 comment on this story

"They went into business. They went into law. They went into government," Perkins said. "They developed the space race. They brought us televisions. They brought us the polio vaccines. They brought us all this innovation.

"If you looked at the history of the United States, it's probably one of the singular most significant things this country has ever done to help itself."

This story is part of a KSL initiative with Utah Honor Flight to help send World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments built in their honor. Those who would like to help that mission can donate at any Mountain America Credit Union.

Contributing: Marc Giauque