LONGMONT — The Rev. Ralph Hardesty has done many things during his 77 years.
He farmed. He served as a fireman on the Great Western Railway, which delivered sugar beets to the Great Western Sugar Co. mill in Longmont. He was ordained as a minister, he has worked as a missionary on American Indian reservations for 43 years and he served as a locomotive engineer during the Korean War.
The one thing he didn’t have, until last May, was a high school diploma.
As part of Operation Recognition, a program that grants high school diplomas to World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, Hardesty and his older brother, Clyde, had the opportunity to dress up in bright blue caps and gowns with red, white and blue neck sashes and go through the graduation ceremony at Longmont High School.
Clyde’s twin brother, Claude, who served under Gen. George Patton in Belgium and died Jan. 16, 1945, at the Battle of the Bulge, posthumously received his high school diploma.
Graduation day meant a lot to the Hardesty family.
“I always felt as if there was something missing from my life,” Ralph said. “I thought about it many times to get my GED, but I am glad it happened the way it did. No fuss, no muss and it was beautiful as far as I’m concerned. At last I get my diploma.”
Clyde, 83, who is quiet and unassuming, said he also was grateful to go through the graduation ceremony and have his twin brother honored, as well.
“I thought it was pretty good. I enjoyed it,” Clyde said.
Clyde and Claude both volunteered for the Navy after Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec. 7, 1941, Ralph said.
“They went to San Diego, but there was a shortage of farm labor, so they were sent home,” Ralph said.
“We worked for other farmers, on thrashing crews,” Ralph said. “Farmers always needed help, so we would go from one farm to the next.”
In April 1944, Claude joined the infantry in Arkansas.
“He arrived in Belgium just before the Battle of the Bulge,” Ralph said.
Claude and one of his best friends from home served together in Belgium, where, he said, they were pinned down in a foxhole for three days in below-zero temperatures. His friend made it out alive, but Claude was killed by machine gun fire, Ralph said.
Ralph escaped World War II but was drafted in 1950 to work as a locomotive engineer during the Korean War. He had just married Joyce in July of that year.
He spent two years in the Army and has many stories about transporting prisoners, food, supplies and weapons for the military.
The scariest cargo was huge napalm bombs, Ralph said.
He and his crew always worried snipers would hit one of the bombs and blow up the train.
He left Korea with three battle Stars.
Operation Recognition was started in Massachusetts in 1999, and soon spread to 20 states.
The program started as a vision to honor and thank the many veterans who sacrificed their education in the name of freedom.
In 2001, the Colorado State Board of Veterans Affairs cooperated with the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Association of School Boards to get Operation Recognition programs started in districts throughout the state.
The St. Vrain Valley School District has awarded diplomas through the program since 2002.
Last year, the program recognized nine men, said Kathy Van Buskirk, the district’s Operation Recognition coordinator.
“Each year, we’ve had between nine and 10 graduates,” she said.
Ralph said the highlight of the program for him was sitting in the front row during the Longmont High graduation ceremony and having the other graduates clapping and cheering for the veterans “because we were part of their graduating class.”
Joyce Hardesty, Ralph’s wife, said, “It was a special honor. I felt it was a real honor and knew it was something he wanted and for his brother, too.”
Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
The St. Vrain Valley School District is looking for war veterans who did not have a chance to finish high school.
What: Veterans or their families may apply to participate in this year’s graduation ceremony and receive a high school diploma. Applicants must fill out a one-page application and include a copy of their honorable discharge papers.
Contact: Kathy Van Buskirk at 303-776-6014
Deadline: April 30
Information: Veterans Affairs Web site: www.dmva.state.co.us