Veterans of foreign wars who didn’t graduate from high school but want their graduation certificates have until Friday to apply for them under a Riverside County program that awards diplomas to former airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines who gave up school to serve their country.

The county Office of Education is conducting its 15th “Operation Recognition” program for the benefit of veterans of World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. The program provides an opportunity for qualifying vets to receive certificates even though they never finished school.

The deadline for all applications is Oct. 15. Like last year, there is no formal presentation ceremony planned because of COVID precautions. However, certificates will be delivered to those who qualify.

One recipient this year will be 95-year-old Garnett Warren Palmer of Riverside, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

“I always kept it a secret that I didn’t finish school,” Palmer said in a statement to the Office of Education. “Some of the others I was training with were doing calculus and seemed so smart. I never wanted to admit to any of them that I had not graduated.”

Palmer became a communications specialist in 1944, using Morse code to transmit and transcribe messages at his Naval duty station in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.

He was honorably discharged in 1946 and went back to a previous job with the Santa Fe Railroad, where he spent 40 years until his retirement.

“My son, who is 67, an engineer, was shocked to find out I never received my high school diploma when I called to tell him that the Riverside County Office of Education would be giving me one,” Palmer said. “I always felt substandard and lacking something. You feel like you are missing something. You don’t feel like your life is complete.”

Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Edwin Gomez said 373 veterans have received diplomas under Operation Recognition since it was initiated in 2007. Some of the county residents awarded diplomas have been around the same age as Palmer.

Operation Recognition is based on California Education Code 51440, which permits retroactive granting of graduation certificates to honorably discharged or retired veterans who served while the U.S. was on a war footing. All they have to do is sign up.

Forms can be downloaded at www.rcoe.us/operationrecognition, requested via telephone through Deborah Sofia at 951-826-6376, or by emailing dsofia@rcoe.us.

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