Diplomas validate veterans’ life lessons

In the next few days as we observe Memorial Day we will pay tribute to the men and women who gave their all to protect and defend our freedoms.

From the Revolutionary War to today’s battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands have made many sacrifices for their fellow Americans.

Many gave their lives and others gave their limbs. Still others gave up precious moments in their lives and the lives of their families. What they sacrificed is immeasurable and that is why it is so important to honor veterans both living and dead.

On top of these many sacrifices is another that is often overlooked and rarely talked about. During the height of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War, many men dropped everything to answer the call for service. That included their educations.

Though they learned much in the “school of hard knocks,” may returned to civilian life without that one important piece of paper: a high school diploma.

Now, decades later, veterans are being offered the opportunity to earn their diplomas and, if they want, participate in a traditional graduation ceremony complete with caps and gowns. Operation Recognition has worked with school districts throughout the country, including those in Nevada, to issue diplomas to veterans who served between Sept. 16, 1940, and May 7, 1975.

The nationwide program aims to recognize these servicemen and women for their sacrifices and service to the country. All they need to do to earn their diploma is fill out an application and attach a copy of their honorable discharge or DD214 form. That’s it. No classes. No tests.

Diplomas can be issued to a veteran even if he or she is disabled or deceased, when a guardian or family member can apply.

The program has been in Nevada since 2003 when Assembly Bill 52 was passed. However, it was not well publicized.

That is changing because of one Boulder City woman’s passion and compassion for these men and women.

Charm McElree first learned about the program several years ago when she was coordinator of the adult education program for San Bernardino County. Working in Victorville, California, she was approached about having a veteran participate in the upcoming graduation ceremony.

Two of her co-workers also has veterans in their families who had not received their diplomas, nor did her brother or uncle.

Since she began working with the program she has helped about a dozen veterans graduate. They ranged in age from 68-90.

“I’ve watched as veterans say they never felt educated because they didn’t get their diplomas, that piece of paper. Even highly decorated veterans,” she said. When she moved to Boulder City about two years ago she was surprised to learn that very few people here and in Clark County knew about the program. Since then, she has devoted countless hours of her time — about two years all on a volunteer basis — to make sure veterans who would like to receive their high school diplomas get one.

McElree is not affiliated with Operation Recognition or any veterans program. All of her efforts come from her desire to help those who served get that well-deserved recognition.

She is especially passionate about helping those who served in Vietnam.

“My heart is with the Vietnam veterans because they were the least rewarded for their actions,” she said.

Just a few weeks ago she began filing paperwork to get a diploma for her late brother, who served in Vietnam. She said she wants to present his daughter and her three sons with his diploma for Father’s Day. “I want them to know that he served.”

The sacrifices that he made were unspoken, but they were there, in the tears in her eyes.

More information about Operation Recognition is available at www.veterans.nv.gov.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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