To thunderous cheers and applause, 14 local veterans and former Japanese-American internees were awarded their belated high school diplomas in a ceremony held May 26 by the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE).
The diplomas were presented by the Sacramento County Board of Education through a program called Operation Recognition. The program acknowledges veterans who missed graduating with their high school class because they enlisted in World War II, Korean War or Vietnam War military service; and Japanese American citizens whose internment in World War II relocation camps prevented them from graduating with their home town high school class.
"I am so pleased that so many men and women, whose educations were interrupted in order to serve our country, are now able to take advantage of what the Operation Recognition program has to offer," said David W. Gordon, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools.
Honorees in attendance, joined by family members and friends, gathered with County Board of Education Trustees at Sacramento's Hilton-Arden West for a pre-ceremony reception. A flag ceremony presented by the Marine Corps League of Folsom Color Guard opened the event. Board President Gretchen Bender conducted a brief meeting of the Board, during which Trustees unanimously voted to bestow diplomas.
Student speaker Kaitlin Law, a senior from Heritage Peak Charter School, gave a special tribute to veterans who made sacrifices during times of war. "Veterans are ordinary people who have made a difference in the world. If each of us gave just a small part of our lives, like the veterans did, our world would be a better place," Law said.
The Rosemont High School Orchestra provided entertainment for the reception's guests.
Trustees presented diplomas to the following individuals:
- Ray William Ayres is a World War II Navy veteran. He was an engine mechanic aboard the USS LST #779 in the North Pacific and the China Sea. That ship provided the flag flown by the Marines at Iwo Jima in that famous photograph. After his military duty, Ray served as a police officer for the former North Sacramento Police Force. Ray attended Placer High School in Auburn.
- Oscar Bertsch attended Mott High School in Mott, North Dakota. He served with the Marines during the Korean War. After being wounded he was assigned to the 9th Evacuation Hospital Squad driving ambulances to and from the front lines. He worked in the air conditioning business for many years and even though he just celebrated his 78th birthday, Oscar is attending school under the G.I. Bill where he is studying computer drafting and blueprint reading.
- Delbert Farmer is a resident of Sacramento. He attended Norwood High School in Norwood, Missouri. He served in the Army during the Korean War with the 50th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion and the 753rd Anti-Aircraft Battalion. Among his honors: the Silver Star and two Bronze Service Stars.
- Ralph Emmet Grebe attended Elk Grove High School before entering service in the United States Army in 1941 during World War II. Following his service Mr. Grebe worked as a master machinist and a journeyman welder. He used his skills two build his two homes all by himself. Mr. Grebe passed away in February of 2000. His diploma was awarded posthumously to his wife, Donna.
- Milton Vincent Gregorio attended San Francisco Polytechnic High School but left school one year shy of graduation to serve in the Coast Guard during World War II. He lives in Elk Grove.
- Robert Laverne Hamilton, Sr. is a resident of Rancho Cordova. He attended Combs McIntyre High School in Oak Grove, Louisiana, and left before graduation to join the Army during the Vietnam War. While in the Army, Robert was awarded both the Marksman Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
- Santiago "Jim" Gonzales Moralez attended Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento before joining the Army during the Korean War. During his service, he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and attained the rank of Sergeant First Class.
- Richard Raymond Reynolds attended C.K. McClatchy High School before joining the Navy during the Vietnam War, where he served aboard the USS Ranger aircraft carrier, where he performed aircraft maintenance.
- Satsuki May Shibata grew up in Sacramento and attended Sacramento High School before she was sent to the internment camp at Tule Lake. She was nominated to receive her diploma by her son, Dr. Cliff Shibata, and has come all the way from San Mateo for this honor.
- Michael F. Slater attended Muscatine High School in Muscatine, Iowa. He joined the Marines on his 17th birthday, during the Vietnam War. He participated in 13 combat missions earning a Bronze Star, the Rifle Marksmanship Badge, and the Combat Action Ribbon. After leaving the service, he earned a college degree, worked for the National Red Cross Veterans Services, and eventually became a Governor's appointee as Chief of California Veterans Services. He is currently active in the Marine Corps League of Folsom Color Guard.
- Ira Van Houten attended Pampa High School in Pampa, Texas before entering the Army during World War II. He served as a tank driving instructor with the 111th Armored Cavalry and as a staff sergeant. He served stateside at Fort Knox and in Germany during the Korean War. Today, he is an ordained Assemblies of God Church pastor and lives in Elverta.
- Raymond Louis Ward lives in the Pocket area of Sacramento. He attended Christian Brothers High School before entering the Army during World War II. Raymond was a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Infantry Regiment in the Philippines and Japan. While in the Army, Raymond received the World War II Victory Medal.
- William Everett Wilber, a resident of Citrus Heights, attended Sacramento High School before serving in the Navy during the Korean War, where he was a hospital corpsman in naval hospitals and aboard the USS Hanson destroyer ship. Among his honors: the Korean Service Medal with 2 Engagement Stars. After serving in the military, William attended adult classes at Sutter Jr. High School in Sacramento and earned his GED, but still missed receiving his diploma and walking with his graduating class.
- Sumiko "Sue" Yamamoto lives in Sacramento. She attended Gilroy High School in Gilroy before she was sent to internment camps in Poston, Arizona and Tule Lake, California. After the war, she moved to Japan with her family and worked at the U.S. Army Base in Beppu, Japan before returning to California in 1981. Mrs. Yamamoto was nominated by her daughter-in-law and surprised with the news on her 84th birthday earlier this month.
Operation Recognition was adopted unanimously in October 2001 by the Sacramento County Board of Education and has since expanded to include recognition of qualifying Vietnam War veterans. Operation Recognition high school diplomas are authorized by the California Education Code (§ 51430 and § 51440).
The Sacramento County Board of Education has thus far provided Operation Recognition high school diplomas to 142 individuals, including five posthumous awards. Persons interested in applying for an Operation Recognition diploma for themselves or a qualifying family member may contact SCOE at (916) 228-2416.