Eight veterans of foreign wars will receive their graduation certificates next week under a program that awards diplomas to former airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines who gave up school to serve their country.
Jerry Arnold of Hemet, Pat Baca of Moreno Valley, Raymond Casares of Hemet, Jack Griner of Thousand Palms, “Ron” Robert Jackson of Hemet, Steve Stone of Homeland, Kenneth Weiner of Murrieta, and Charles Whatley of Riverside will be furnished diplomas during the 12th annual “Operation Recognition” ceremony Tuesday at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center.
Baca’s certificate will be granted posthumously, received by members of his family, according to the Riverside County Office of Education.
He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, as did Whatley. Stone and Weiner were also soldiers and served in Vietnam. Griner is U.S. Navy veteran from World War II, while Jackson was in the U.S. Coast Guard, which was activated as a Naval component during the Korean War. Arnold and Casares were each U.S. Marines in that conflict.
Griner is the oldest among them — 93 — and said that he looked to the military after dropping out of high school in Chicago “because I was too ornery.”
“School and I didn’t get along too well,” the former seaman said. “They wondered what in the world they were going to do with me, and I said I wanted to join the service.”
According to Griner, he liked to scrap and tangled with a championship boxer once, but the professional fighter socked him in the mouth during an encounter, “and that was it,” off to war he went for a different — and scarier — type of challenge.
Griner spent four years in the Navy. During the war, he drove amphibious landing vehicles, ferrying Marines from troop transport ships to the beaches of Guam, the Marshall Islands, Okinawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima.
He was wounded while on the island of Tinian and received a Purple Heart. After the war, he returned stateside, first settling in Los Angeles, where he met and married his wife of 59 years, Erna. According to Griner, he worked different jobs before starting his own manufacturing business, which was almost completely lost during the 1965 Watts Riots.
The factory, which turned out bent plywood and other products, was eventually rebuilt, and Griner worked into his golden years, then retired to the Coachella Valley, where his wife passed away in 2008.
He said he now tinkers in his garage and writes books of poetry, with the 15th — “Rose Petals” — going to print in a few weeks.
“Getting a diploma never came to mind. I didn’t let it,” Griner said. “I just bypassed it because I learned enough on my own. My wife was a lot smarter than I was, so every time I had a problem, I’d ask her. You become a pretty good bluffer after a while. Nobody ever asked me if I had a diploma, and I wasn’t about to tell them.”
He said having the graduation certificate will be a “fun” milestone and “might make me a better speller.”
“I can’t spell at all,” the vet said. “Spell check on the computer saves my day.”
The county Office of Education holds Operation Recognition ceremonies for veterans of World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. Under the program, vets are eligible to receive certificates even if they never finished school.
The program was initiated in 2007, with events always immediately before or after Veterans Day. More than 350 diplomas have been awarded to date.
Operation Recognition is based on California Education Code 51440, which permits the retroactive granting of graduation certificates to honorably discharged or retired veterans who served while the country was on a war footing. All they have to do is sign up.