Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and a High School Diploma—World War II Veteran Among 17 to Receive Honorary Degrees at Eighth Annual Operation Recognition Event

TL Shelton

TL Shelton

RIVERSIDE – Over the last several years, TL Shelton has been talking with students in Texas and Southern California about the importance of education and military service. His message to hundreds of students is noteworthy in that the 89-year old World War II veteran last set foot in a classroom as a 14-year old red-headed 8th grader in Oklahoma who never even started high school.

At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, November 12, Shelton and 16 additional Riverside County veterans of foreign wars will be honored with high school diplomas by the Riverside County Office of Education as part of the Eighth Annual Operation Recognition Ceremony at the Moreno Valley Conference & Recreation Center (14075 Frederick Street, Moreno Valley).

Operation Recognition is a program of the Riverside County Office of Education that presents diplomas to residents of Riverside County who missed completing high school due to military service in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or due to internment in World War II Japanese-American relocation camps. Operation Recognition high school diplomas are authorized to be granted to eligible veterans by the California Education Code, Section 51440.

Now making up for lost time in the classroom, Shelton has spoken to hundreds of students—including in the classrooms where three of Shelton’s eight grandchildren are teachers in the Moreno Valley Unified School District. Kids are always most impressed with his stories about operating a flamethrower as an Army infantryman during the liberation of Leyte in the Philippines in World War II, he said.

“I share with kids that I did not get an education,” Shelton said. “I let them know that I would like them to do their best and go off to college.”

Shelton doesn’t recall much about his brief educational career beyond his struggles with dyslexia that caused challenges in reading comprehension and spelling. His educational career ended after he completed the 7th grade in McAlester, Oklahoma, where he was expected to share the workload of the busy summer harvest on the Shelton family farm. As the oldest of seven kids, his role quickly stretched beyond the summer as he became proficient in cultivating corn, harvesting cotton, and driving the John Deere tractor. He started the 8th grade, but the needs on the farm were too great and he never returned to the classroom. He enlisted with the U.S. Army in 1944 and served for two years.

Shelton’s memory is sharp as he recalls celebrating his 19th birthday storming the beach on the island of Leyte in The Philippines while serving in the 383rd Infantry Regiment of the 96th Division. He spent that evening sleeping in a foxhole and moving out in the middle of the night as artillery shells leveled the ground around them. Shelton shares details about fighting in Okinawa, Japan, when his unit was hit with phosphorous shells that burned so hot that the wood on the barrel of his rifle melted. The attack killed many of his fellow soldiers, and left scars on his back and hand that still affect him today. His military career ended at the age of 20—but not before earning a bronze star, a purple heart, and additional commendations.

Upon returning to the United States, Shelton immediately looked for work and didn’t consider furthering his education at the time. Recalling that his strongest subject in school was arithmetic, he put those skills to work designing and building roads during his 28-year career as a heavy equipment operator and supervisor with the transportation departments in Imperial and Riverside County.

Shelton first heard that he would be receiving his high school diploma when his granddaughter, Shari Shelton-Geeson, surprised him with the news. Unbeknownst to him, she submitted the application on his behalf to the Riverside County Office of Education and presented him with the official notification that he had qualified for the honorary degree.

“I thought about returning to get my degree a few times in the 1960s, but never did anything about it,” said Shelton, a Moreno Valley resident. “It is very special that people would do this for me.”

Below is the list of graduates from the Operation Recognition Class of 2014, including their hometown, branch of military, and the war(s) in which they served:

Salvatore Amata
Cherry Valley
US Army – Korean War

Joe Aviles
Beaumont
US Navy; US Army – World War II, Korean War

Gerald Blokzyl
Mountain Center
US Army – Korean War

Gary Crone
Cathedral City
US Navy – Vietnam War

Manuel Espudo
Banning
US Marine Corps – Korean War, Vietnam War

Phillip Klock
Mira Loma
US Navy – Korean War

Henry LaPointe
Riverside
US Army – Vietnam War

Steven Netter
Riverside
US Marine Corps – Vietnam War

Joe Pruett
Hemet
US Navy – Vietnam War

Rudolfo Ramirez
Corona
US Army – Korean War

Adam Ruelas
Beaumont
US Army – Vietnam War

Juan Serrano
Riverside
US, Marine Corps – Vietnam War

Muhammad Shamsid-Deen
Riverside
US Navy – Vietnam War

TL Shelton
Riverside
US Army – World War II

Philip Walker
Lake Elsinore
US Marine Corps – Vietnam War

Robert Wible
Murrieta
US Air Force – Korean War

George Zankl
Moreno Valley
US Navy – Korean War, Vietnam War