World War II Veteran Among 11 Graduates To Receive Diploma Through Operation Recognition Program

Eliodoro “Lolo” C. Gonzalez

Operation Recognition Class of 2020 Graduate, World War II Veteran, Eliodoro “Lolo” C. Gonzalez.

Since 2007, 362 Riverside County veterans from World War II, Vietnam, and Korean War have received long sought-after high school diplomas.

RIVERSIDE – For a student whose formal education came to an end after the 8th grade, the life of World War II veteran Eliodoro “Lolo” Gonzalez, is an important lesson in making the most of every situation in life.

At the age of 95, Lolo is about to receive something he never thought he could achieve—a high school diploma.

The Operation Recognition Program 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, 362 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, the Vietnam War, or due to internment in WWII Japanese-American relocation camps.

Lolo Gonzalez is one of 11 veterans who will receive their diploma ahead of Veterans Day—along with congratulatory commendations from local legislators.

Edward Francis Boisvert
U.S. Marine Corps
Korean War
Resident of RiversideAndres Castillo
U.S. Army
Vietnam War
Resident of Indio

Harvey L. Clavon
U.S. Army
Vietnam War
Resident of Palm Desert

Julius V. Condemi
U.S. Marine Corps
Korean War
Resident of Palm Desert

Eliodoro “Lolo” C. Gonzalez
U.S. Army
World War II
Resident of Hemet

John William King
U.S. Navy
Vietnam War
Resident of Hemet

Mark Marschlowitz
U.S. Army
Vietnam War
Resident of Corona

Johnny Jesse Moser
U.S Navy
Vietnam War
Resident of Corona

Ernesto Perez
U.S. Marine Corps
Vietnam War
Resident of Menifee

Warren Joseph Torregano
U.S. Navy
Vietnam War
Resident of Riverside

Stephen E. Varner
U.S. Army
Vietnam War
Resident of Riverside

Only a few years after the end of World War I, Eliodoro “Lolo” Gonzalez was born in Mexico. His parents relocated to the Inland Empire shortly thereafter, and Lolo enrolled in Ramona Elementary School on the west side of San Bernardino.

“I was an average student,” Lolo admitted. “I remember that the principal was stern and nobody argued with him.”

Lolo’s parents returned to Mexico during the summer following Lolo’s 8th grade year—effectively ending his formal, in-classroom education before he ever set foot on the campus of San Bernardino High School.

“I kind of figured that might be the end of school because I had to work and couldn’t see myself going back to school,” Lolo said.

Lolo’s family returned to San Bernardino when Lolo was 17. He found work at the Santa Fe Railroad’s “ice plant” where he maneuvered large blocks of ice into Santa Fe railroad cars to keep fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs cold as they traveled across the country.

At the age of 18, Lolo joined the United States Army in 1943 during the height of World War II. He joined his two older brothers who were also serving in the war—continuing a family tradition that eventually resulted in all seven Gonzalez brothers serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Lolo became a naturalized citizen while serving for the United States on October 19, 1945.

His time of military service included a stint at Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, with the 31st “Dixie” division with many fellow recruits from the southeastern part of the United States.

As a rifleman and truck driver, Lolo was part of the force that drove the Japanese off the island and then helped deal with the abandoned equipment and supplies from the fleeing forces after the war ended in 1945. When his division was assigned to serve in Mindanao in the Philippines, he recalls receiving a ticket from the military police for speeding—an ironic circumstance as Lolo would later spend 25 years protecting the streets of San Bernardino from speeders as a police officer.

Lolo was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned to work at the railroad ice plant in San Bernardino. He never considered returning to school, but he took the opportunity to improve his English while he was in the Army.

“I grew up speaking Spanish at home, and my mom taught me how to read and write in Spanish,” Lolo said. “I enjoyed reading and was always looking for good stories with my nose in a book.”

While serving overseas, Lolo described his English as having “an accent like you wouldn’t believe.” His fellow recruits, many with their own unique accents from the American South, served as good teachers and corrected his English.

His English skills became an important requirement for landing a position as an officer in the San Bernardino Police Department in 1956. He navigated the hiring process and was hired without having to show proof of completing high school.

While serving on the San Bernardino Police Department for 25 years, Lolo went through the process to apply for promotions several times. The process included written tests that he always passed. But, he never followed through on the process for fear of being disqualified because he lacked a high school diploma amongst his paperwork.

“Whenever I was asked where I graduated from high school, I would tell people I went to the ‘Armed Forces Institute,’” Lolo said. “Only one guy ever figured it out.”

Lolo met and married his wife, Carmen, in 1950. They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in 2020. Their family of five children has grown to include 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.

Although he has been a resident of Hemet for the last 30 years, Lolo took advantage of an opportunity to purchase a lot of land for $2,500 in the mid-1970’s on the west side of San Bernardino. Starting with a shovel, he would spend the next six years building a 2,700 square foot, two-story custom home in San Bernardino. He finally moved his family in after he retired from the police force in 1981.

When asked about the prospect of receiving his diploma more than 75 years after he would have attended high school, Lolo laughed wistfully.

“The first thing I’m going to do is show it to my great-great grandkids and tell them it’s better late than never,” Lolo said. “Then I’ll probably celebrate with a glass of wine.”