From Omaha Beach to All 50 States: World War II Veteran Set To Receive Honorary High School Diploma at Age of 92

Ruben Peters

World War II veteran, Ruben Peters, holds the photo of his wife and daughter that still bears the scrapnel marks from being carried with him everywhere he traveled throughout Europe as a motorcycle messenger for the U.S. Army.

At the age of 92, Ruben Peters has seen his fair share of violence and tragedy that has forever been etched into a lifetime of memories: The nauseating loss of life on Omaha Beach on D-Day, the revulsion of encountering concentration camps in Germany, and the terror of driving his motorcycle on missions through dangerous battle zones of the European Theater of World War II.

On the day before Veterans Day in November 2015, Corporal Peters will don a uniform that he’s yet to wear in his nine decades of life—the hat, tassel and stole of a graduate. After receiving a bronze star, silver star, and medal of valor, he will walk across the graduation stage for the first time and receive an honorary high school diploma at Riverside County Office of Education’s Ninth Annual Operation Recognition.

“I always felt like I missed something in this world—and that was my education,” Peters said. “For years, I felt embarrassed sometimes—like I was a failure because of not having an education. I’ll be honored to get that diploma.”

At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, November 10, Peters and 10 additional Riverside County veterans of foreign wars will be honored with high school diplomas at the Moreno Valley Conference and Recreation Center (14075 Frederick Street, Moreno Valley). Operation Recognition is a joint effort of the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Kenneth M. Young, the Riverside County Board of Education, and the Riverside County Department of Veterans Services. At the program, diplomas will be presented 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 and Section 51430.

Born in Nogales, Arizona, Peters’ family relocated to southern California and he found himself in the role of family provider as a teenager. He started driving a truck at the age of 15—a career on the road that would take him through military assignments and crisscrossing the United States well into his 80’s as a long-haul truck driver.

“I didn’t really feel my age when I was in school or know how to be like others who were my age,” Peters said. “I couldn’t concentrate on school and was looking at the world as somebody much older than I was.”

When drafted at age 19, Peters had the option of deferring his military service due to his essential role of supporting war-time efforts at home as a truck driver shuttling goods and services across the country. He stepped forward anyway to serve and became a motorcycle messenger for the 206th Combat Engineers. After being shipped out to England, he soon found himself in Southampton preparing to land on mainland Europe.

“We were given live ammunition and gas masks before climbing on the boats that took us to Omaha Beach,” Peters said. “We arrived on the beach on D-Day just hours after the initial landing and I’ll never forget all the death I saw there.”

Once on European soil, Peters and his 1944 Harley traversed the back roads of France, Germany, and Austria to deliver codes and other information to the U.S. forces. Without the luxury of carrying a map (a security risk if captured) or driving on the established highways (most were known to be fraught with mines), Peters frequently spent days at a time navigating the unpredictable back roads of the countryside while dodging enemy fire and foregoing food or sleep in order to accomplish his mission on time. On one occasion, an incoming volley of heavy shelling blasted into his motorcycle into pieces and killed a friend next to him.

“I’m not sure why I survived,” Peters admitted. “There wasn’t fear, I didn’t know how to get scared.”

The explosion ruptured his eardrum, but serious shrapnel-related injuries were avoided thanks to the protection of his trusty messenger bag that carried documents and a photo of his wife and daughter that still displays the shrapnel scar today. Suffering from temporary hearing loss, Peters was taken to a makeshift hospital. While there, the corporal realized that the seriousness of his injury paled in comparison to the gruesome scene at every bed around him.

“I didn’t need that bed nearly as much as everybody there, so I snuck out of the hospital” Peters said. “That’s the only reason I don’t have a purple heart—it’s because I’m probably the only hitchhiker during the war that got a ride back to the front lines.”

After his first tour of duty ended, Peters re-enlisted and returned to Germany as a military police officer. He served an additional 2.5 years before returning to the U.S. to assist his wife, Helen, with their ill daughter, and was eventually discharged.

With the benefits from the G.I. Bill, Peters had the opportunity to go back to school, but chose to continue his career in transportation and climbed back behind the wheel of a truck—a job that took him across all of the United States and Canada for 71 years as an owner/operator. Despite an accident that nearly left him paralyzed, Peters is a model of health for someone born in 1923. He lives a very active life and can still perform fingertip pushups and other feats of strength to the amazement of his friends and family.

“Last month, I was walking to the grocery store and wondered if I still had the ability to run,” Peters said. “So, I gave it a try and I was still able to do it.”

His hobbies include restoring old motorhomes—from renovating the interior and repairing the exterior, to tinkering under the hood and getting them back on the road. He’s working on his fourth one now.

“I don’t know how to be idle. I try to keep myself busy,” Peters said. “The doctor told me to keep doing whatever I’m doing.”

As he reflects on his life, he recognizes where his lack of an education held him back from greater things. He believes that not having a diploma prevented him from rising up the military ranks more quickly due to the paperwork and related assignments.

“I regret that I didn’t know more about financial topics during my career,” Peters shared. “I would have listened to my accountant and bought another truck to minimize my taxes.”

With 17 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren, and 8 great-great grandchildren, Peters now makes it a point to reinforce the importance of education whenever he has the chance.

“I tell my grandkids that the world is so much more technical now and that they need an education. I sit them down and speak to them about the importance of school.”

For as much as Ruben Peters didn’t feel his age when he dropped out of school, the spry veteran is now looking at the world as someone much younger than his actual age—evidence of a graduate-level lesson in the classroom of life.

Operation Recognition Class of 2015

David Beaudoin
Palm Springs
U.S. Navy – World War II

Robert Michael Coe
Corona
U.S. Army – Vietnam War

Benjamin John Cusumano
Rancho Mirage
U.S. Army – World War II

Harvey Robert Harris
Cabazon
U.S. Army – Vietnam War

James Esco Lenon Jr.
Riverside
U.S. Army – World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War

Joe Peña Jr.
Canyon Lake
U.S. Army – World War II

Juan Peña Jr.
Indio
U.S. Marine Corps – Vietnam War

Ruben Martinez Peters
Riverside
U.S. Army – World War II

Richard Rosenthal
Palm Springs
U.S. Army – Vietnam War

Jacinto Reyes Salinas
Indio
U.S. Army – Vietnam

Ralph Hamilton Wolfe Jr.
Riverside
U.S. Navy – World War II