FAIRFIELD, Calif. (KTXL) — It was a long time coming but 11 military veterans from Solano County were awarded their high school diplomas after their education was interrupted by their service.
Marine Corps veteran Luther Hendricks is amazingly spry for his 94 years and nothing was going to keep him away from getting an honorary high school diploma from the Solano County Office of Education in Fairfield.
“I’m amazed. I didn’t expect to get it,” he told FOX40.
Hendricks said he tried to enlist in the Marine Corps as soon as World War II broke out, riding the wave of patriotism.
“When the war came along, it was just everybody’s duty to drop what they was doing and serve,” he said.
Instead, he joined the war effort at Mare Island Naval Shipyard before trying again when racist restrictions by the Marine Corps were lifted.
He was astonished again when he went to train in North Carolina.
“Devastating. The language they used towards the blacks, the way they treated us,” Hendricks explained in a biographical video.
Eventually, he fought in Guam, Iwo Jima, the Philippines and Saipan.
After the war, he tried to join the Marine Corps Reserve.
“They told me they weren’t taking colored in the Marine Corps Reserve,” he said.
But Hendricks said he doesn’t regret his service.
“This is our country,” he told FOX40. “If you don’t fight for your country, who you going to fight for?”
Years later, he received a congressional gold medal given to black Marines who served in battle and battled racism after their discharge, which he wore Thursday.
He was joined by other veterans who shared the same experiences, including having their educations cut short by service to their country.
Most of them earned GED diplomas in the military and some got college degrees.
They all said Thursday’s ceremony filled a missing gap in their education — a sacrifice they willingly made.
“It is our civic responsibility to honor these individuals who, for so long, have gone without the recognition of their high school diploma,” said Solano County Superintendent of Schools Lisette Estrella-Henderson.
It is something Hendricks said he will cherish among all his accolades.
“It’s sweet,” he said. “Everything I’m getting now, it just makes me feel like a movie star.”
The Solano County Office of Education has had its Operation Recognition ceremony for the past five years, handing out diplomas to veterans who went without to serve their country.