It took awhile, but 11 veterans finally got their own “Pomp and Circumstance.”
The Solano County Office of Education presented 11 high school diplomas — seven to living veterans and four to their next of kin — during their annual Operation Recognition (OpRec) ceremony on Friday.
OpRec is a nationwide program that honors and awards honorary high school diplomas to U.S. veterans and Japanese-Americans who could not formally graduate from high school due to wartime circumstances.
According to the California Association of County Veterans Service Officers 2017 Annual Report, 17 percent of World War II veterans, 11 percent of Korean War veterans and 5 percent of Vietnam War veterans do not have a high school diploma.
“During the event, I was standing in the back silently crying as the video biographies of the 11 were being played,” said veterans advocate Nestor Aliga, who helped find applicants via letters to the editor and mass email to veterans service organizations in Solano County
This year’s honorees featured three World War II veterans. Along with the keynote speaker, they are connected to the American Legion Manuel L. Quezon Post 603 and/or the Vallejo school district.
Post 603 member Rear Admiral Thomas Cropper, President of California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo, gave the keynote address on Friday.
“It’s impossible to adequately thank these men for their service,” Cropper said. “It is a high honor for all of us to thank them and their families for a legacy of service that they’ve left us, one born of their unbroken spirit, courage and patriotism.”
James Moises is the late father of Post 603 life-member Warlito Moises. James was a radio operator for the Philippine Scouts who provided vital intelligence for the United States Army Forces. He was a Bataan Death March survivor, a prisoner of war for two years and is a recipient of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal.
Another WWII veteran is Post 603 member Luther Hendricks, who first tried to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1941, but they were not taking African-Americans until 1942. Hendricks trained at the segregated and sub-standard facilities of Montford Point, now called Camp Johnson, next to Camp Lejeune. He fought in Guam, Iwo Jima, Philippines, and Saipan and is a recipient of the Montford Point Marines Congressional Gold Medal.
Sylvester Hood is the late father of Chief Ivery Hood, the Naval Science Instructor for the Jesse Bethel High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Sylvester, like Hendricks, fought in the 51st and 52nd Defense Battalions, regarded as one of the best gunners in the Marine Corps. He is also a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal .
Post 603 helped honor both Hendricks and Hood aboard the USNS Montford Point while being repaired by the Mare Island Dry Dock. Then-Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis declared March 15, 2015 as Montford Point Marines’ Day.
The other new graduates included Frank Carges, Earl Genske, David Henry, Willie Hunt Jr., John Updegraff, Leroy Wallace Jr., John West, and Mack West.
“The best part (of the event) for me was seeing all of them finally get their diplomas despite all the challenges that encountered in their lives,” Aliga said. “Especially for Luther Hendricks and Sylvester Hood because I’ve heard that African Americans could not even go beyond 10th grade due to Jim Crow discriminatory laws in many parts of America at that time. All the graduates and families of the graduates were publicly or quietly in joyful tears.”
CalVet Deputy Secretary Xóchitl Rodriguez Murillo gave the closing remarks and thanked the veterans for their dedicated service and selfless sacrifices and reminded everyone to never hesitate to reach out to CalVet for veterans assistance.
All of these “new” graduates have passed high school equivalency tests and received General Educational Diplomas (GED). Most went on to get college degrees or completed trade apprenticeships, and they have been very successful with other aspects of their “wheel of life.” But many of them felt that a life milestone was missing, hence, this formal event with pomp and circumstance.
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