• Jun 13, 2024
  • 11:03 PM

Program Allows Veterans to Receive High School Diploma Years Later

By Chuck N. Baker 

When America went to war, some high school students left school to join the military or were drafted. They never officially received their high school diploma. These veterans completed their service, whether it was a two-year draft, the minimum three-year enlistment or retirement after 20 or more years.  

In the 1940s, thousands of young men and women left high school and the comforts of home to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Most began their service during the massive call-up of soldiers following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Years later, some veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars did the same thing. They left high school to serve our country and never “walked the stage” to receive their diploma.   

After they served, they found jobs, raised families and in some cases started businesses. They were successful in life, but when they got together with their buddies and the talk turned to high school memories, some tended to change the subject or be excused to use the restroom. They were successful, but they considered the lack of a high school diploma to be a failure in their lives. It was an embarrassment, a poignant dream left unfulfilled. 

Now, many years later, a former school employee has taken on the challenge to support these veterans. Charm McElree is working to make sure these veterans receive their diploma through Operation Recognition 

Most veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, who left high school to join the military are eligible to apply to their former schools and receive an honorary or an actual diploma. However, through Operation Recognition, McElree takes on the task of obtaining the diploma on behalf of the veteran. For the most part, it doesn’t matter if the veteran attended school in Nevada or out of state.  

McElree makes contact with the proper facility, be it a school, a district, a board of education or other government entity. And while there are officially 26 states that openly subscribe to the Operation Recognition program, McElree does not hesitate to contact any state, participating or not, if she feels she can convince them to grant a diploma. 

While there are details to be filled out, the basic information required is the name of the veteran, the name of the school, the years he or she was supposed to graduate and a DD214 indicating an honorable discharge. Age is no barrier. “One 90-year-old woman practically skipped across the stage to receive her diploma,” McElree said.  

She’s worked with several WWII veterans including a Pearl Harbor survivor. When it comes to discussing her program she said, “I speak to various veterans’ groups and at other civic organizations, to explain the program. But some veterans won’t talk to me at those places, because then others will know that they didn’t graduate from high school.” 

Charm worked as a coordinator at schools in California, and occasionally filled in as a substitute teacher. She learned about the recognition program by reading of its beginnings at the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services. It was described as a “small overdue gesture of our society’s gratitude for the sacrifice these individuals made in the name of freedom."  

The first ceremony to award diplomas was a graduation ceremony conducted on May 20, 1999, at Gardner High School in Boston, Massachusetts. High school diplomas were awarded to 39 veterans of World War II. McElree has been successful in seeking diplomas for 60 veterans. Of those, 45 veterans were from Nevada. “Some schools go overboard,” she said. “They do pictures, or they honor the veteran in front of a current graduating class. Their families are invited, their children and grandchildren.”  

When diplomas are sent through the mail, McElree is not present when the envelopes are opened. “But I can guarantee you that the veterans all cry when they receive that document. They never thought they would receive a diploma.” A recent Clark County graduate was Kenneth Muller, who served in Vietnam. McElree said his school in Illinois awarded him a “real diploma” from his “real high school” and he was overjoyed.  

McElree is passionate about the program in Nevada and can be contacted at 760 885 0935, or  cmcelree2000@yahoo.com. Or visit the NDVS website by going HERE and clicking the Operation Recognition tab.  


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