Russell Rego has appeared in the pages of The Times on a few occasions in recent years.
In 2014, he discussed, along with his wife, Delia, the mental health and substance abuse struggles many military veterans face today.
In 2016, Rego brought to the public’s attention his fight for tax relief for disabled vets like himself.
The next year, the Russell D. Rego USMC Act passed the Georgia House of Representatives. It has since stalled in the Senate, but if it passes it would allow qualified disabled veterans to file for a three-year retroactive reimbursement of the Disabled Veteran Homestead Tax Exemption.
To qualify, honorably discharged Georgia veterans must own the home and use it as a primary residence.
The exemption extends to surviving spouses who haven’t remarried and minor children as long as they remain in a home in the same county.
Now, as 2019 approaches, Rego has more news to share.
Earlier this month, he was awarded an honorary diploma from North Hall High, where he had attended school before enlisting in the Marine Corps.
“It’s truly a special honor,” he said before the Hall County Board of Education on Dec. 10. “Fifty-six years I’ve waited to receive this.”
Rego never did return to finish high school and graduate.
Instead, he served from 1972 to 1993, including in Vietnam during the last months of the war, leaving shortly before the fall of Saigon.
He was later stationed in South Korea.
Rego also raised a family, with his two now-grown children attending North Hall High. And he now has grandchildren, too.
His service to the community and the nation left an unmistakable impression on Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.
“This is about as special as it gets,” he said.
The state allows individuals who left school to serve in foreign wars to receive honorary diplomas.
Schofield said Rego had earned his diploma through his sacrifices for Americans.
“We’re not giving anybody anything,” he said. “These individuals (like Rego) gave of themselves so that we can enjoy what we enjoy today. They’ve earned every bit of the diploma. It is our honor. Thank you for your service.”
Rego posed for pictures with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren while those in attendance gave him a standing ovation.
But Rego, like a true serviceman, shifted the focus to his wife, who he said had “put up” with him for 40 years.
“If there’s a medal for wives of military people, she’d get the highest one,” Rego said.