A grand chance for vets to become grads | PostIndependent.com

A grand chance for vets to become grads

Post Independent Photo/Jim Noelker

PARACHUTE – Ronald Reese and Joe Trujillo didn’t make it to their high school graduations.

Reese, 76, who was a member of the Grand Valley High School’s class of 1946, was stationed with the United States Army in Nuremberg, Germany, on the day of his graduation.

Trujillo, 77, left Palisade High School in 1942 to join the United States Marines. When his class graduated, he was in the South Pacific with the 1st Marine Division.

But Saturday, both men donned caps and gowns and, with members of Grand Valley High School’s class of 2003, joined the first graduation ceremony at the newly constructed school.

Reese and Trujillo received their high school diplomas through a nationwide program called “Operation Recognition.”

Endorsed by the Colorado Department of Education and coordinated by the Colorado State Board of Veterans Affairs, the program recognizes the life experiences of veterans who served during World War II, and awards veterans who saw active duty between Sept. 16, 1940, and Dec. 31, 1946, with a high school diploma.

In both men’s cases, relatives encouraged them to participate in the graduation program, which has issued more than 3,500 diplomas across the country since 1999.

Reese, of Delta, said his son Larry Reese, who lives in Rifle, learned about the program earlier this year and encouraged his father to apply.

Ronald Reese said most of his family attended the graduation ceremony, including his four children, his wife, Lois, and her two children, a granddaughter who lives in Commerce City, and two great-grandkids.

“It’s pretty neat,” he said. “Everybody wanted me to do it.”

Trujillo said all the members of his family wanted him to go through Grand Valley’s graduation ceremony.

“I figure, after all these years, why bother?” said Trujillo, who works at the Battlement Mesa Golf Club and lives in Parachute with his wife, Joan. “But it’s great. And it’s a good reason to get the whole family together. Everybody came to my graduation except one grandson.”

Reese was raised in what was then called Grand Valley on a fruit ranch. But with world war coming to a boil, he joined the Army in July of 1945 when he was 18.

“I tried joining the Navy earlier, but they wouldn’t take me because I was colorblind,” Reese said.

The war ended soon after Reese enlisted. He spent about a year and a half in the service. much of that time in Germany, before returning to the Western Slope. Following the war, Reese worked for Union Carbide in Rifle, Nevada and Wyoming, and moved to the Delta area 10 years ago.

Trujillo said he decided to enlist with a bunch of his friends in 1942.

“I quit school and told them I was old enough,” Trujillo said. “But I lied, and they didn’t believe me anyway. They asked me to come back when I was dry behind the ears.”

When Trujillo made the cut when he turned 17, he was sent to the South Pacific and China, where he served until 1946. After working in coal mining, he, too, worked for Union Carbide, and later was a City Market store manager. He’s worked at the Battlement Mesa Golf Club since 1988.

Both men said it felt good wearing a cap and gown, but Reese is facing a dilemma.

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now after graduation,” he quipped.

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518


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