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Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado

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September 9, 2001

The Pueblo Chieftain Online

More wartime dropouts may get diplomas

The Pueblo Chieftain

Bob Collyer remembers how honored he felt when, after dropping out of high school in 1943 to fight in World War II, his alma mater saw fit nearly 30 years later to award him his diploma.

Of course, by then he had returned from the war, received his GED certificate, a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, and was teaching at Centennial.

Today, the state Veterans Affairs board hopes schools across the state follow the lead of Centennial and others in bringing back their war-year students to give them their diplomas.

The diplomas should go to any qualifying vet regardless of whether they ever returned in school, board chairman Doug Sterner of Pueblo said.

"They got their education defending America," Sterner said.

On Friday, the Veterans Affairs board announced a partnership with the state Department of Education, area schools and Congressman Scott McInnis for the initiation of "Operation Recognition."

The setting for the announcement was Heroes Plaza outside the Pueblo Convention Center. Nearby, a local radio station was conducting a fund-raiser for victims of this week's terrorist strikes on the U.S.

The announcement date was initially selected because it was "Star-Spangled Banner Day." Organizers opted to go forward in show of support of the nation's military, board chairman Doug Sterner of Pueblo said.

"We felt at a moment like this, it's very appropriate," Sterner said.

Collyer urged all Colorado veterans who qualify to take part. Even though his case was somewhat special, all of his classmates who dropped out with him to enlist are equally deserving, he said.

"I was ready to go. There were 38 in the same class that had the same feeling - and maybe a few others that didn't want to take second-year algebra," Collyer quipped.

Also in attendance for the kickoff ceremony was Central High School principal Jim Manzanares, whose school last year identified and honored four of its World War II dropouts.

"It was very touching moment. And all of our students were happy to honor them," Manzanares said.

In past years, schools worked individually to bestow such honors, Sterner said. The purpose of Operation Recognition is to expand the program to all schools throughout the state.

A similar program operates in four states, he said. In Colorado, the high schools already signed up to participate are Central and Centennial in Pueblo, Canon City, Florence, Rye and Fowler, he said.

"We hope that will be followed by dozens more," Sterner said.

To nominate a person for such an honor or to receive more information, contact the respective high schools or a county veterans affairs office.

The program is open to any honorably discharged veteran who served in World War II between Sept. 16, 1940, and Dec. 31, 1946, attended high school between 1937 and 1946, but did not graduate.

Diplomas can also be awarded posthumously, Sterner said.

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