Veterans Diploma Project honors four San Bernardino County veterans

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Photo courtesy SBCSS: (Front Row Left to Right) Daniel Carrillo, Pete M. Molina, Kareem E. Gates, Michelle Baca with diploma on behalf of her father Samuel Ramirez Baca. (Back Row Left to Right) County Superintendent Ted Alejandre, County Board Member Laura Mancha and Interim Director of the San Bernardino County Veterans Affairs Victor Tordesillas.

San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools awarded high school diplomas to four San Bernardino County veterans as part of this year’s 14th Annual Operation Recognition Veterans Diploma Project (VDP) on Dec. 8.

“As an Air Force veteran of 34 years, I’ve met incredible individuals who sacrificed so much to serve our nation,” said San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Ted Alejandre. “It is a special honor to recognize fellow veterans who have delayed their education to serve our country during times of war and award them their long-awaited high school diplomas.” 

At 96 years old, Pete Molina shared his experience as a former San Bernardino High School student who was drafted into the Army before he could complete his education. He recounted his harrowing experience of being a new recruit in the southern region of the Philippines during World War II. 

Molina described receiving his high school diploma nearly seven decades after he might have received it as a relief.

“It makes me feel that all the knowledge from junior high to high school didn’t go to waste,” said Molina. “Education means a lot to me.”

Big Bear resident, Daniel Carrillo, shared how proud he was of his service, but always felt something was missing. 

“It always bothered me that I never got my diploma,” said Carrillo. “Now, I can say I have a diploma.”

Prior to enlisting in the Air Force during the Korean War, Carrillo served in the Army National Guard.

County Superintendent Alejandre also bestowed a high school diploma to Vietnam War veteran Kareem Gates. 

Samuel Ramirez Baca, who passed in 2015, was awarded his diploma posthumously. His daughter, Michelle Baca, received his diploma on his behalf.

In addition to County Superintendent Alejandre, Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, San Bernardino County Supervisor Joe Baca, Jr., Big Bear Mayor Rick Herrick, San Bernardino City Council Member Damon L. Alexander and Bear Valley Unified School District Board Member Cathy Herrick were in attendance. 

The Operation Recognition Program is a joint effort between SBCSS and the San Bernardino County Department of Veterans’ Services. 

Since the program’s inception, nearly 300 diplomas have been presented to veterans who did not complete high school due to military service during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War or due to internment in WWII Japanese-American relocation camps. 

To qualify, the applicants must be residents of San Bernardino County and service members must have been honorably discharged.