While most of his classmates were putting on their caps and gowns for their graduation ceremony, Richard Real was setting mines and blowing up bridges in Korea.
On May 10, nearly seven decades after leaving San Diego High School to serve the country, the 85-year-old received his high school diploma from the San Diego County Board of Education through the Operation Recognition program.
"I'm pretty tickled about it," Real said. "Now I can go to Oxford, right?"
Operation Recognition is a statewide program that honors people who didn't finish high school because of war. Those eligible include veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, as well as Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps during World War II.
"It's an honor that we have this program to be able to recognize people who give so much to their country and lose part of their life, yet they can get something back that they still want these many years later," said Board President Rick Shea.
Real has lived in San Diego his whole life. He was encouraged to join the National Guard in 1950 by some of his friends at school. Before he knew it, he was sent to Korea.
"We thought we were going to go sightseeing or something, but they sent us to Korea," he said.
He celebrated his 18th birthday the day he arrived in Korea. There was even a band that welcomed the troops with a clunky rendition of If I Knew You Were Comin', I'd've Baked a Cake.
During his two years serving as a demolition expert in Korea, Real earned two Bronze Stars.
Real is the 11th person since 2004 to receive an honorary diploma from the San Diego County Board of Education through the Operation Recognition program.
View the board meeting here.