Riverside Veteran to Receive High School Diploma Missed While Serving as Paratrooper in Vietnam

Seven veterans from Korean and Vietnam War-era will join graduation ranks of more than 300 who have been honored with a high school diploma over ten years of Riverside County’s Operation Recognition.

Manuel Blunt, U.S. Army Vet, with his horse “Honor”

RIVERSIDE – Manuel Blunt grew up working part-time as a teenager in Central California and attending Fresno High School. He dropped out in 1967 to enlist in the U.S. Army, following in the footsteps of his uncle, someone he looked up to as a father figure, who had served during World War II. For Manuel Blunt, leaving high school was not that tough a decision, he said. He was, and still is, patriotic, and saw the Army as the best way he could serve his country.

“I made a choice,” he said. “My mother didn’t agree with my choice, but I convinced her.”

Now 50 years later, the Riverside resident, a former paratrooper who fought in Vietnam, will join another band of brothers—veterans like him who are now eligible to receive the high school diplomas they never received while serving in the military through a program known as Operation Recognition.

Operation Recognition awards diplomas as a joint effort of the Riverside County Board of Education, the Riverside County Office of Education, and the Riverside County Department of Veterans’ Services. Since its inception in 2007, more than 300 diplomas have been presented to residents of Riverside County who missed completing high school due to military service in World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, or due to internment in WWII Japanese-American relocation camps.

The 2017 Operation Recognition program will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, November 13, at the Moreno Valley Conference Center, 14075 Frederick Street, Moreno Valley. Authorized by Education Code Section 51440 and 51430, the program is open to current residents of Riverside County whose high school education was interrupted by military service in World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War.

View the 2017 Operation Recognition Photo Gallery

2017 Operation Recognition Graduates

Manuel Blunt
U.S. Army
Vietnam War
Resident of Riverside
Edward Clark
U.S. Marine Corps
Korean War
Resident of Norco
James Morrison
U.S. Navy
Korean War
Resident of Canyon Lake
Bradford Hotchkiss
U.S. Navy
Vietnam War
Resident of Riverside
Timothy Basquez
U.S. Marine Corps
Vietnam War
Resident of San Jacinto
Joseph Harrison
U.S. Army
Vietnam War
Resident of Perris
Mack Salesky
U.S. Army
Vietnam War
Resident of San Jacinto

When Manuel Blunt first left the stifling heat of California’s Central Valley to begin basic training in Washington, he was taken aback by the weather. “It rained every day, and if it didn’t rain it snowed,” he said. “I learned in the Army to adjust.”

A few months later, he was stepping off another airplane in Vietnam, where he got his next chance to adapt – and not just to the climate. “There was this blast of heat, and when it rained, it seemed as if it would never stop,” he said. “Then I saw the combat veterans there. They were my age. But they looked combat worn.”

Blunt spent the next 16 months in combat in the jungle alongside his comrades. “In the beginning, we thought we were over there for a good cause,” he said. “As time went on, we were more focused on taking care of each other.”

He returned to the United States in 1969, landing this time in San Francisco, where he faced another shock — anti-war protesters.

By 1971, he was out of uniform and back in Fresno, where he tried, but failed, to get his old job back at a bakery. He attended Fresno City College and Reedley College briefly, hoping to become a crime scene investigator. When that didn’t pan out, he moved to Yorba Linda and got a job as a pipefitter for Union Oil. He then spent nearly 20 years working for the California Department of Parks and Recreation before he retired.

All the time, Blunt was haunted by what he experienced in Vietnam, and his treatment back in the United States.

“It was like holding a bottle of Coke and shaking it up,” he said. “That’s how I felt inside.”

He sought and found relief in a program at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Loma Linda. “I was finally able to let it all out. I am a better man for it.”

And he found another unlikely source of comfort. “I was driving by a place called Queen of Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center in Mira Loma. The lady who ran it was retired Army, just like me…It worked. Horses don’t criticize. You give them love, they love you.”

He spent five years in the program. Now he has his own horse – Honor – stabled in Norco and still finds calm during the time he spends with him. His life is on track. He and his wife, Mary, have two grown children who are doing well, and he is enjoying his retirement.

As his graduation day approaches, Blunt remembers a high school English teacher who told him she believed in him.

“She sat me down and said, ‘You have the ability to do whatever you want to do and excel at it.’ In the Army, I excelled. I became a valuable person.”

He is already thinking about when he walks across the stage to finally receive his diploma on November 13.

“It’s going to be a proud moment. It’s something I never got to experience.”