From the San Diego Union Tribune

By: Maureen Magee Contact Reporter  (02/07/2017)

Veteran graduates high school 67 years later. Retrieved from

Norm Johnson left San Diego for the Air Force nearly seven decades ago without a high school diploma. He’s back in town to receive one Wednesday through the Operation Recognition Veterans Diploma Project. (Howard Lipin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The judge’s ultimatum came 67 years ago: enlist in the military or face juvenile detention for repeatedly skipping classes at San Diego High School.

Norm Johnson gladly joined the U.S. Air Force in April of 1950. Even after he was deployed to Asia to fight the Korean War, Johnson was sure he wouldn’t miss San Diego or the Grey Castle — save for the sports and judo lessons, which the slight 17-year-old took at his father’s urging.

The ensuing decades were a blur of unbelievable jobs and encounters with dignitaries and celebrities — bodyguard to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, backup dancer to Elvis Presley in “Jailhouse Rock,” and racing cars with James Dean, among them — which Johnson chalks up to smarts, luck and timing.

After amassing personal experiences — some documented with photos and records, others with colorful stories — that could rival Forrest Gump’s, Johnson will receive what he describes as an important accolade Wednesday when he gets an honorary diploma from the San Diego County Office of Education and Operation Recognition Veterans Diploma Project.