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thedrifter
07-01-09, 08:42 AM
Veteran gets diploma after four decades

By John Gavin
For the Hi-Desert Star
Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 1:34 AM CDT

YUCCA VALLEY — Local Vietnam-era veteran Lawrence “Larry” Turner did not heed his cousin’s advice in 1968. Instead, he joined the Marines before he could complete high school in Walled Lake, Mich. Turner served in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1974, completing a stint in Vietnam.

Over the ensuing years, his lack of a high school diploma created problems. He admits he usually lied on employment applications. Fortunately, Walled Lake had grown from one high school to three since his attendance there, making it difficult for outsiders to track inaccuracies in his application.

He did try to get a General Education Degree, attending six months of night classes after working construction jobs during the day. He passed the program’s first two examinations with flying colors, scoring highest in the class in chemistry and math. However, on the night of the final exam, he was exhausted and fell asleep for most of the allotted time. He failed the test and didn’t get his GED.

Despite his lack of a diploma, Turner went to medical trade school and even became a certified medical assistant. He then trained as a locksmith and held various jobs in the Inland Empire.

Still, history kept catching up with him. In Las Vegas, Nev., he found a locksmith job. However, since the locksmith would have access to casinos, the employer performed a stringent background check. Found out, Turner was promptly banned from working at any casino in Las Vegas.

Eventually, Turner moved to Yucca Valley, where he owns his own business, Penguin Pool and Spa, which he operates with one of his sons. His other two sons are sheriff’s deputies in Arizona.

A few months ago, Turner read in the Hi-Desert Star about the San Bernardino County Veterans Affairs’ Operation Recognition.

Operation Recognition presented high school diplomas to qualified applicants who had dropped out of school to serve their country.

They had to be county residents who were honorably discharged from the military.

After considering the offer for a week, Turner decided to take advantage of the project. He called the county office of education and requested an application.

To his surprise, the application arrived in the mail the very next day. He completed it and sent it off.

One month later, he received an acceptance letter. He and 110 other veterans were invited to receive their diplomas June 5 in a ceremony in Rancho Cucamonga.

Turner said when he arrived in Rancho Cucamonga, he found banners hanging for a mile or more on Milikin Avenue. There were photographs of men and women from the community serving in Iraq.

“I was in awe seeing this, knowing that I was going to receive a diploma that day as well!” he wrote in a letter about the experience.

“When I arrived at the community center, there were welcome signs everywhere,” Turner said.

“Waiting in front of the community center, I met another Vietnam veteran in full uniform from Johnson Valley,” he added.

A chorus from a local high school sang the national anthem and hymns of the military service. Turner received his diploma from the San Bernardino County schools office, a gold medal commendation and a stack of letters of appreciation from county, state and federal offices.

In an interview Tuesday, Turner said he and his fellow veterans were surprised at all the hoopla for them. “We were looking at all this stuff and saying, ‘What’s going on here?’” he laughed.

Receiving his diploma ended decades of regret for the veteran. “My other three brothers got diplomas and I didn’t,” he said. “That’s bothered me my whole life. While they were getting their diplomas, I was graduating boot camp.”

Since getting his diploma, Turner has been encouraging fellow vets to apply for next year’s Operation Recognition program.

“I just want other veterans to apply for this,” he said.

The process is easy and more than worth it, he added.

“When I applied to receive my diploma, some of my friends laughed and said, ‘What do you need a diploma for at your age?’” Turner recalled.

“If they were there and saw the look on the faces of proud veterans from three wars, that would have answered their question.”

Veterans, interned Japanese-Americans may apply

San Bernardino County will offer high school diplomas to eligible veterans of the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam eras in the second annual Operation Recognition next year. Japanese-American citizens who did not get high school diplomas because they were interned in a relocation camp between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 41, 1946, are eligible as well. Surviving family members may apply on behalf of eligible individuals who are deceased.

Recipients must have been enrolled in high school before their enlistment or internment. They must be residents of San Bernardino County.

For information, call (909) 386-2412.

Ellie