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Sandoval honors woman who helps veterans receive diplomas

A Boulder City resident was recently recognized by Gov. Brian Sandoval for changing people’s lives.

On Thursday, Nov. 15, Charm McElree was named November’s Nevada Department of Veterans Services Veteran Supporter of the Month for helping more than 20 veterans receive their high school diplomas after they left high school to serve in the military and fight in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War.

McElree is involved with Operation Recognition, a national program that grants veterans their high school diplomas. To date, she has helped 25 veterans from 18 states receive the honor, including Doug Nichols of Boulder City.

“When she presented me the diploma, it was like I was a little kid again,” he said.

Nichols finished high school in 1959 in California and joined the U.S. Army in 1960. He served for 21 years.

He said he did not participate in graduation and couldn’t get his diploma, even though he had the correct number of credits.

“I went through the GED program in the Army,” he said.

Nichols said he went back to the school to get his diploma, but the building had burned down and all his records were gone.

After talking to McElree, Nichols said she researched everything and talked to the school system superintendent. Through her efforts, she was able to get Nichols his diploma, and she presented it to him in 2017.

“It means everything to me,” he said. “To me it’s the same as not being able to pay for college and having someone pay for it. That’s what she meant to me. She made me feel like I had finished school besides going into the Army.”

“I’m not in the military, but I found a venue in which I can give back to them,” McElree said.

McElree comes from a military family and had an uncle who died on the beach in Okinawa. Her husband, Bill, is also a veteran, as well as his father and her brother.

At Thursday’s presentation, Sandoval said McElree’s efforts change lives, and he was privileged and honored to recognize her for them.

“It makes me proud,” said Sandoval in an exclusive comment to the Boulder City Review. “There are so many volunteers who are making the lives of our veterans better … especially Charm. She’s such a passionate person.”

“It was really surreal for me,” McElree said after being recognized. “I didn’t expect anything. They know who I am and support me. It’s just heartwarming.”

The presentation also allowed her to meet in person some of the veterans she had helped, including David DeRose, who quit school to join the U.S. Navy and fight in Vietnam.

DeRose said he always wanted to get his diploma but never could, and 50 years later McElree helped him achieve that goal and make him official just in time for his 50-year reunion.

“She meant the world to me, because it was something I always wanted to get but couldn’t,” he said. “I’m really happy that I got to meet her.”

McElree is a retired educator and said she had the initial idea to work with veterans when she was coordinator of an adult school in Victorville, California, after she was asked if some veterans could walk across the stage in their caps and gowns.

“I said, ‘Of course,’” said McElree. “It just touched my heart.”

Two years after she retired and moved with her husband to Boulder City, McElree started working with Operation Recognition in 2016. One of the first diplomas she was able to get was a posthumous one for her father-in-law, William McElree, who had fought in World War II.

“My father-in-law did not go to school after the eighth grade,” she said.

Nevertheless, McElree contacted the school system and was able to have one awarded to him.

She also helped her brother, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and died after his service at the age of 50, receive a diploma.

“His daughter has three sons, and I wanted them to know their grandfather was in the war,” she said.

Any veterans who fought in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War and are interested in receiving their high school diplomas should contact McElree at 760-885-0935 or cmcelree2000@yahoo.com.

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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