It may have come 46 years after the fact, but Frank Michael Griffin is officially a high school graduate. Griffin was awarded an honorary diploma from Paonia High School during halftime ceremonies of Friday's Homecoming football game. Griffin, who goes by Michael, received a big thank-you for his patriotism and willingness to sacrifice for his country.
"It's an honor," Palmer told Griffin after the ceremony. "We are very proud of you."
Griffin is a Delta County native and grew up in a large family on Stucker Mesa in Paonia, where his maternal grandparents homesteaded. Griffin said that he still has family in the area and nine of his 10 siblings are still living.
Griffin would have graduated in 1969, but left Paonia his junior year and enrolled in high school in California. Griffin left school, then returned to graduate, but due to strict graduation requirements, he didn't receive a diploma. He was studying for his GED at a junior college in California when he was drafted in 1969. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Tomcat Squadron during the Vietnam War in the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing 3rd Battalion.
Griffin recalled that after returning home from Vietnam, he and his buddies were greeted with jeers and protests. "It was a very hard time," said Griffin.
He continued serving in the Marine Corps in aviation ordnance for five years after the war. While he earned a GED during his time in the Marines, his records, including medical records, were destroyed. He returned 30 percent disabled, and was unable to attend college because he lacked a diploma or proof of GED.
Griffin and his brother started a company in 1977 in California, designing, engineering and manufacturing aircraft cutting tools for the aerospace industry. In 1989 they brought the business to Colorado. The company made parts for military fighter jets and used in space shuttles. When Boeing developed problems with the tail section of its 707, they designed the retrofit packages used to fix the problem. Griffin also helped develop pinpoint bombing methods used in Desert Storm.
Griffin enrolled at Northwestern Community College in 1998-1999 to study criminal justice, where he earned a 4.0 GPA and made the Dean's List.
His situation, including the fact that he received an honorable discharge, fit the criteria for "Operation Recognition," which coordinates awarding of high school diplomas to "deserving and qualified" veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans through the Department of Veteran Affairs. In Colorado, diplomas are awarded in cooperation with the Colorado Department of Education and Association of School Boards. In 2003, PHS awarded an honorary diploma to a World War II veteran through the American Legion.
Griffin said he will use his diploma to apply for funding for college. "You have to have it," he said.
The entire application took about six months. After receiving a letter from Palmer stating that his application was accepted and he would be awarded his diploma, he used the letter to enroll in college. Griffin said he plans to continue his studies in criminal justice and computer science.