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Turlock veteran earns honorary high school diploma
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Willis Jack Bright at just 17 years old during World War II. - photo by Photo Contributed

Turlock veteran Willis “Jack” Bright never graduated high school. Instead, he joined hundreds of thousands of other young boys and men who enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1945, at just 17 years old, Jack was becoming a man.

He tried to join when he was 15 in 1943, but just before he was to ship out his age was discovered and he had to go back home. Bright said he was 6-feet tall at 14 — allowing him to almost get away with joining the war effort.

In the more than six decades since the war, he has never attended any formal educational institution — except a semester long class on real estate ethics when he became a broker in the late 1960s.

While in the Navy Bright worked as a diesel engineman and left after four years of service, most of which was spent in the Pacific’s Marshall Islands testing the effects of a nuclear bomb.

After the Navy Bright worked at a Caterpillar dealership, and in 1955, he became a painting contractor, followed by his real estate career starting in 1969. He also served on the Tuolumne County School Board in the 1960s.

Last Tuesday Bright was honored along with eight other Vietnam and Korean War veterans during the Stanislaus County Office of Education’s Operation Recognition program. All the veterans were awarded honorary high school diplomas because their high school education was interrupted for service during war operations.

Bright said he would recommend young people at least get their high school diplomas, but he noted that he has seven grandchildren and only a few have jobs applicable to their college education.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.