To enthusiastic cheers and applause, six local veterans and former Japanese-American internees were awarded belated high school diplomas in a ceremony held May 18 by the Sacramento County Board of Education.
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 due to 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 hometown high school class.
"As a Vietnam veteran, this program has a deep, personal meaning for me. I served with many soldiers — men and women — whose educations were interrupted in order to serve our country," said Deputy Superintendent Marty Cavanaugh. "I am so grateful that so many of our local veterans in Sacramento County are able to take advantage of what the Operation Recognition program has to offer."
Honorees in attendance, joined by family members and friends, gathered with County Board of Education Trustees inside the David P. Meaney Education Center for a pre-ceremony reception. A flag ceremony presented by the Marine Corps League of Folsom Color Guard opened the event. Board President John C. Scribner conducted a brief meeting of the Board, during which Trustees unanimously voted to bestow diplomas.
Student speaker Adrienne Goodwin, a senior from Florin High School, in the Elk Grove Unified School District, gave a special tribute to veterans who made sacrifices during times of war by reading her award-winning essay entitled "Does America Still Have Heroes?"
"As long as there are freedom and democracy to fight for, lives to restore, problems to solve, and someone to save America we will always have heroes. Those heroes will always fight and value the spirit of America," Goodwin said in her essay.
The El Camino High School Jazz Trio provided entertainment for the reception's guests.
Trustees presented diplomas to the following individuals:
- Jeremiah Hannigan attended East Side High School in East St. Louis, Illinois, and currently lives in the Rancho Cordova/Mather area of Sacramento County. He served in the U.S. Marines from 1951 to 1954 and in the Air Force from 1955 to 1980, altogether nearly three decades of service. He is among the "most decorated" of any veteran honored through Operation Recognition. Among his honors: 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, 3 Bronze Service Stars, Vietnam Service Medal, and National Defense Service Medal with Star.
- Darrell Mann lives in the La Riviera section of Sacramento County and attended Los Angeles High School. He served as a machinist repairman on two navy ships: the U.S.S. Piedmont and the U.S.S. Cowell. Following his service, Mr. Mann went to barber college on the G.I. Bill and cut hair for 12 years in Sacramento. He then worked as a materials manager for Kaiser Hospital for nearly 30 years and is now retired.
- Ben Tadamitsu Ogata attended Woodland High School and was recruited as a Japanese language interpreter by the U.S. Army while he and his family were interned in the Tule Lake Relocation Center, during World War II. He served in that duty in occupied Japan. At the time of the internment, Ben had left high school to support his family after his father died. He never re-entered high school as planned. Following his service, Ben and his wife Shizuko (also known as Suzie) started a business. They were the founders of the original Suzie Burger eatery in Sacramento. Ben passed away in 1986. Accepting his diploma was his daughter Taniya Ogata Robinson.
- Albert Weaser attended Bend High School in Bend, Oregon. He currently resides in the Foothill Farms area of Sacramento County. Mr. Weaser earned many awards during his military service: the Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Rifle Sharpshooter Medal. He was presented with his diploma at a County Board of Education meeting last December to enable him to qualify for student aid. He had decided to enroll in community college at the young age of 63.
- Jonathan Welense graduated from Galileo High School in San Francisco and grew up in Novato. He left high school to serve in the U.S. Navy and served as a mechanic on three Navy ships during the Korean War. Following his service and without a high school diploma, Mr. Welense earned an A.A. degree and worked for the federal government managing federal buildings, several of them in Sacramento, where he spent much time.
- Herbert Willock attended Grant High School and currently resides in the Natomas area. He was a corporal when he left active duty for the Army Reserve in 1955 and continued to support the military for 35 years as a civilian employee at McClellan Air Force Base, here in Sacramento County. He is now retired. In his decades of work, he served as an inspector and supervisor in the supply and warehouse units. Education has always been important to Mr. Willock because he has always made time to attend night classes and continuing education courses at McClellan.
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 148 individuals, including six posthumous awards. Those interested in applying for an Operation Recognition diploma for themselves or a qualifying family member should call (916) 228-2416.