Inspire Dayton: Air Force ‘gave me a gift that was just unbelievable.’ Now that family wants to help other vets

Tony Diaz, now 70 of Cincinnati, is pictured during his military service. He was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force base when he was in the U.S. Air Force and Reserve.
Tony Diaz, now 70 of Cincinnati, is pictured during his military service. He was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force base when he was in the U.S. Air Force and Reserve.

Tony Diaz was always a hero to his son, Richard Diaz, even before he knew the huge obstacle his father overcame as a young man thanks to the U.S. Air Force.

“I didn’t know much about my dad’s early life. I think as a kid you always see your father as a Superman and he was to me,” said Richard Diaz, 48, of Centerville. “He was a soldier. He was a carpenter. He was an amazing cook. He was a project manager and a mechanic.”

It wasn’t until Tony Diaz, now 70 and living in Cincinnati, was working on his memoirs that Richard Diaz learned that his father could only read at a third grade level when he graduated from high school in New York and was drafted during the Vietnam War.

“That blew me away. I said, ‘You are where you are and you could barely read,’” said Richard Diaz, who is a producer for the Miami Valley Communications Council.

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The Dayton region is known for coming together in tough times to help one another. Throughout December, the Dayton Daily News will tell the stories of people who have inspired others during this challenging year.

Tony Diaz grew up poor in New York and said he had to get up at 5 a.m. to work “so by the time I got to school I was exhausted.”

He was good at numbers, could paint and fix mechanical things, but he couldn’t read well. Tony Diaz wound up in the U.S. Air Force in Texas fixing aircraft armament systems, but it wasn’t long before his commanding officer realized that he had problems reading.

“I couldn’t read and I was too embarrassed to tell anybody that,” Tony Diaz said. “I had mechanical skills and I was fortunate enough that I could handle money.”

He was put into a reading program and said, “after a year I took the comprehension test, and I’d learned how to read.”

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He became a voracious reader and ultimately went to college, finishing his Bachelor’s degree in business after being transferred to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the early 1980s and later a Master’s in business administration. He raised three sons and retired after 10 years active military and 13 years in the Air Force Reserve.

“The (military) gave me a gift that was just unbelievable. I could read,” Tony Diaz said. “To this day I am grateful for what they did for me.”

Richard Diaz said was even more proud of his dad when he learned his history.

“Seeing the complete picture of him, I’ve been trying to recognize his military service in some way,” he said.

Through his job Richard Diaz had met Cindy LaPointe Dafler, the widow of Joseph Guy LaPointe Jr., a Dayton man who was posthumously awarded the medal of honor for bravery during the Vietnam War. Dafler told him about the Joseph Guy LaPointe Jr. Memorial Veterans Scholarship Fund set up through the Sinclair Foundation.

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That sparked an idea in Richard Diaz, who told his dad he wanted to fund a scholarship in his name as a way to show him how inspiring he was to his son.

The $600 annual scholarship was set up through the Sinclair Foundation and is fully funded through 2025. Richard Diaz hopes to eventually raise enough money to sustain it in perpetuity.

The Senior Master Sergeant Tony Diaz Veterans Education Scholarship will be awarded annually and can be used to cover tuition, fees, books and expenses required to complete a certificate or degree.

“The Sinclair Foundation is honored to support the Diaz family in their gracious efforts to provide this scholarship to veterans and students,” said Zachary J. Beck, chief development officer for the foundation.

File photo of Sinclair Community College.
File photo of Sinclair Community College.

Tony Diaz said it is an honor for him and his family to assist veterans and other students in advancing their education.

“I am incredibly proud of my service to my country and the educational opportunities it provided that positively impacted my life,” he said.

Tony Diaz hopes to self-publish his memoirs and works as a stock clerk at a Kroger store just to stay busy.

He uses his life story to inspire the young people he works with.

“To the young kids around me that have broken homes or are dropouts, I say, ‘This is not the end of the world,’” Tony Diaz said. “You can turn it around. I couldn’t read. I learned to read. I went to college and I have a better life.”

He calls himself “a normal guy who got a lucky break.”

“There are a lot of us who grew up in tough environments,” Tony Diaz said. “But there is a door and there are people who can guide you through it.”

INSPIRE DAYTON

Throughout December, the Dayton Daily News will tell the stories of people who have persevered and inspired others during this challenging year. Read all the stories at DaytonDailyNews.com/inspire-dayton. Tell us who inspired you in 2020 by emailing Jordan.laiird@coxinc.com

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