Emotions where high when Vietnam Veteran Byron Conetah received his honorary diploma May 24 during the 2019 Union High School graduation at the new high school auditorium.
The capacity crowd gave Conetah a standing ovation. Conetah was drafted after leaving Union High School in 1970 to serve in the Vietnam conflict. He is now retired from 34 years of employment with the Ute Indian Tribe.
“It's good to have a diploma and finish school,” Conetah said. “I realized as I got older things that I had on my mind changed, but I still had the dream to get my diploma.”
Conetah is proud of his service to his country.
“It was hard to come back home because people didn't understand and they didn't want to hear about it,” he said.
Workforce Development Specialist and Veteran Subject Matter Expert Blaine Roberts said it was special to see Conetah walk across the stage.
“It was wonderful,” Roberts added. “Being a veteran myself, it's amazing to see what we can do for veterans. Byron didn't get the welcome home like he should have received when he came back. It's nice now to be able to honor their service.”
Roberts was one of the many people in the crowd at the time of the graduation.
“It was amazing to see the reception he received,” Roberts said. “It was the loudest applause of the entire night, so it was great. Talking with Byron afterward he said it was the best moment in his life.”
Roberts said Conetah requested a form to get his honorary diploma ball rolling on the process.
“From there it went to the VA who requested his records to make sure he was a candidate for the program,” Roberts explained.
After Conetah received his diploma, Roberts accepted an honorary diploma for Michael P. Austin who wasn't in attendance.
“We would love to get more Veterans involved in the program,” Roberts added.
In 2008, the Utah State Legislature passed House Bill 118, which allows honorably discharged Veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam to be eligible to receive honorary high school diplomas where they left.
Conetah explained he has had less than desirable and ill-paying jobs because he lacked the one piece of paper that said you had brains.
He was a junior at Union High School when his father took him to Duchesne to comply with the Selective Service Act of 1917, which authorizes the United States to raise a national army for service once males reach the age of 18 they are required by law to register.
During his time in service, Conetah was a gunner and squad leader. He gained experience in warfare, He also served in the 101st Airborne and the 25th Infantry.
After Conetah's service he married the late Crystal Margie Mahle Conetah. The couple were married for 42 years, while raising Sharon Conetah Small and Jeremy Conetah. He has five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.