When Ed Bray was 89 years old, he finally accomplished one of the first things that most people do. It was nonetheless one of the greatest and the “toughest” challenges this World War II vet has ever faced—and it revealed a secret he had kept for nearly his entire life.

World War II veteran Ed Bray has over a dozen medals displayed in his Cookson, Oklahoma home for his service, including two purple hearts. However, the 90-year-old veteran only had one thing he wanted to accomplish before he died.

Ed Bray wanted to read a book.

“I’ve covered this up for 80 years–no one in this town knows I can’t read!”

“[The] toughest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life is not being able to read,” Bray told CBS.

Tougher than being in Normandy on D-Day, he said.

One may wonder how someone can go through life not knowing how to read. Bray said after he retired, a coworker helped him read forms he needed while working at an air force base refueling planes, and his wife also helped him get by when she was alive—but it’s been years since she passed.

“I want to read one book! I don’t care if it’s about Mickey Mouse! I want to read one book before I die!”

Despite trying for years with teachers, tutors, and reading on his own unsuccessfully, he decided to give it another go when a friend recommended he see a Professor of Reading Education at Oklahoma’s Northeastern State University named Toby Thompson.

At first it was a challenge, and it took Bray a while to get comfortable with Thompson.

“You’re wasting your time” he told her—but she didn’t give up, and neither did Bray. Eventually, after several weeks of just talking, they moved on to flash cards, and he was making progress recognizing words like “four” and “one.” Then a big moment for Bray came in February 2013.

The World War II veteran read the third-grade level biography on ‘George Washington’, and then he cried—not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy, of victory, of disbelief.

It was the first book Ed Bray had ever read.

And although it was only a third grade level book, that small victory was equivalent to a lifetime of struggle for Bray.

It was an emotional moment, and his teacher, Toby Thompson, was touched to tears. “It gave me goosebumps–and it still does,” she told CBS.

“This has changed my whole life. I’m not the same guy I was when I started with Toby—I’m a different man now,” said Bray who has developed a newfound confidence. He’s even visited karaoke clubs, singing his heart out—now that he can read the lyrics on the screen.

Bray is now reading at a 6th grade level and enjoying what he’s waited an entire lifetime for. They are simple pleasures, but perhaps that’s where the joy in life resides.

It was 89 years in the making, but he did it.

“Get in there and learn baby, now! Cause you ain’t gonna learn in that pine box.”

Watch the heartwarming story below: