|By Michelle Symington|
WEST SPRINGFIELD West Springfield High School students who did not complete their education because they left school to serve in World War II (WWII), the Korean War or the Vietnam War will soon have the chance to receive their high school diploma.
The West Springfield Department of Veterans Services along with the West Springfield School Department will participate in Operation Recognition, a section of the Welcome Home Bill signed by Governor Mitt Romney on Nov. 11 that awards veterans their high school diploma.
James Berrelli, director of Veterans Services in West Springfield, explained that the city offered diplomas to WWII veterans about six or seven years ago. He added that Operation Recognition expands the offering of diplomas to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars in addition to WWII.
Berrelli said that in order to be eligible to receive a diploma, the veterans must have attended West Springfield High School at the time they left to serve in the military.
Berrelli said that it is important for veterans to have the opportunity to receive their diploma.
"These guys left school to serve their country," he said. "That is a pure form of patriotism in my book."
He added that some of the veterans did not have time to return to school once they returned from war.
"They deserve to get their high school diploma if they did not have time to go back," he said, adding that some veterans raised families or went to work.
Berrelli said that his motto is to show dignity, honor and respect to all veterans.
Berrelli is working with Dr. Suzanne Marotta, superintendent of West Springfield Schools, and Kevin McQuillen, assistant superintendent of West Springfield Schools, who told him to solicit veterans to find out how many veterans there are without diplomas.
According to Berrelli, once all the names are collected, he plans to have a ceremony for the veterans, at which Marotta will present them with the diplomas.
Any veteran who attended West Springfield High School who would like to receive a diploma can call Berrelli at 263-3019.
According to a summary of the Welcome Home Bill compiled by the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, the bill also does the following for veterans and their families:
Increases the death benefit for the families of deceased Massachusetts National Guard members from $5,000 to $100,000.
Provides all members of the Massachusetts National Guard with education and fee waivers at all state and community colleges. The Commonwealth, not the schools, would bear the cost of such waivers.
Establishes an 11-member commission to study tuition and fee waiver programs for veterans and make a report on their findings to the legislature by April 1, 2006.
Establishes the Military Family Relief Fund for members of the Massachusetts National Guard, Armed Forces and Reserves.
Provides a $1,000 bonus for those who were called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001 and a $500 bonus for those who were activated in areas other than Iraq or Afghanistan.
Increases annual annuity payment for blind, paraplegic and disabled veterans to $2,000.
Increases annual annuity payment for Gold Star Mothers (parents) to $2,000.
Provides Gold Star Wives (spouses) with $2,000 annual annuity payment.
Allows Massachusetts public employees who are members of a neighboring state's National Guard unit to apply their creditable service towards pension credits.
Increases daily pay for Massachusetts National Guard members from $75 to $100.
Provides 50 percent coverage of monthly SGLI (federal program) life insurance premiums for policies worth up to $400,000 or an equivalent group life insurance program of the servicemember's choosing provided that the reimbursement shall not exceed the monthly premium of the cost of SGLI for members of the Massachusetts National Guard.
Expands the definition of a World War II veteran, making the Massachusetts definition consistent with the federal definition.