Douglas Jon Borges and Arthur Flores Aleman left high school and joined the military at age 17, drawn by the desire for adventure.
Both served their country and saw the world. While in the military, each passed the General Educational Development test, but they spent decades yearning for their diplomas.
Tuesday night their dreams came true.
Borges and Aleman were among eight veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War awarded high school diplomas by the Sacramento County Office of Education.
The office launched Operation Recognition in 2001 to honor the contributions of veterans and Japanese American citizens who didn't complete high school due to those three wars.
A total of 171 diplomas have been awarded through the program.
"It is something that is always in the back of my mind," the 86-year-old Borges, a Citrus Heights resident, said last week. "When I had to apply for jobs I had to list GED, and it's not the same as a high school education."
Borges said he will frame his diploma and put it on the wall beside to his military citations and medals.
Joining him for Tuesday evening's reception and award ceremony at the Sacramento County Office of Education were his wife, children and grandchildren.
"It's awesome," said 11-year-old Mikey Borges of the recognition given his grandfather, who has stressed the importance of education. Douglas Borges still has the letter his mother signed in October 1944, when he was 17, granting the high school sophomore permission to join the Merchant Marine. Borges and his shipmates traveled the world carrying heavy equipment, ammunition, toothpaste and toilet paper to American troops.
He turned age 18 on Iwo Jima.
Borges said he was not in battles during his time with the Merchant Marine and he longed to join the fight. So, he signed up for the Army Air Corps and stayed when it became the Air Force, retiring 20 years later as a chief master sergeant.
At age 38, Borges started a 20-year career as a deputy with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, but he never forgot about his education. Although he had his GED, he wanted a diploma.
Aleman, 60, a resident of Sacramento's Colonial Village area, plans to put his diploma on the wall "as high as I can."
The Vietnam veteran joined the U.S. Navy in 1969 the summer before his junior year in high school.
"I volunteered to go," he said. "I wasn't doing too well in school."
He spent more than two years training stateside before he was sent to Vietnam. He was there only about six months before a cease-fire was declared. His stay was extended for nearly another year to "pick up our mess," driving underwater demolition teams by boat to trigger unexploded mines and picking up stranded Marines.
He left the military after four years and spent 35 years as a union carpenter before retiring at age 57.
He is excited about finally earning a diploma. "There was something missing in my life," he said, "and now I feel complete."
For 62-year-old Anthony Luis Lopez, a Vietnam veteran and Carmichael resident, receiving a diploma was more than fulfillment of a dream. In 2011, he was laid off from his job as a security guard, a job he had held for five years, because he hadn't passed the math portion of the GED. He regained his job after two years when his employer learned that he was receiving a diploma through Operation Recognition.
Joining him for Tuesday's ceremony was Carol Jauregui, a teacher with the Folsom Cordova Unified School District's adult education program who served as Lopez's mentor and tutor.
Also presented with a diploma during the ceremony was William Raymond De La Ossa, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. A vehicle mechanic in the Army, he continues to work as a mechanic in Somerset.
Four other veterans were recognized and will receive diplomas, although they were unable to attend the ceremony: Edward Charles Chop of Walnut Grove, U.S. Marine Corps, Korean War; Jerry LeRoy Dodge of Citrus Heights, U.S. Navy, Korean War; Larry Dennis Hayes II of Rio Linda, U.S. Army, Vietnam War; and Fred G. Stilwell of Elk Grove, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam War.
Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.