Chowchilla youth traded his diploma for a rifle

December 8, 2018

For The Madera Tribune
With Chowchilla High School trustees in the background, board president Pat DeWall leads the audience in a standing ovation for Royal Goodman who received his high school diploma Monday, 48 years after he left school to fight in Vietnam.

Goodman awarded high school document 48 years later


They were rounding up every able bodied soldier, no matter what their job, and putting them in helicopters to fly them into the jungles of Cambodia. It was 1970, and Royal Goodman, a 17-year-old Chowchilla youth, had not expected this. Six months earlier, when he had joined the Army, the recruiter had promised his parents that he would not go to Vietnam. Now here he was descending the ladder that dangled from the helicopter and listening to the bullets whiz past.


Goodman had made the decision to forgo his high school diploma and enlist in the Army when he was in the middle of his senior year at Chowchilla High School, even though the war in Southeast Asia was consuming young Americans by the hundreds. His wife, Patricia, was expecting, and this was the only way he knew to take care of her and the baby. He knew that she and the infant would have health care through the military and that she would receive an allotment from the Army. As it turned out, Royal also sent her all of his pay, since he “had no place to spend money in the jungles of Cambodia.”

 

After basic training, Royal was assigned to the Army’s 9th Infantry Division and sent to Vietnam as a generator repairman. Six months later he was in combat in Cambodia.


Goodman’s tour took him into some of the fiercest fighting of the war. His combat inauguration took place when he saw a man walking out of the jungle toward his patrol. He had no gun and did not appear to be threatening. To Goodman’s surprise, one of his comrades suddenly shot and killed the intruder. The dead man had been an enemy soldier who was booby-trapped with a grenade.


The next six months of Goodman’s life must have been a living hell. Along with the others in his company, he woke up each morning wondering if this would be his last. As is often the case, bands of brothers were formed in combat, and there were six in Royal’s group. They watched out for each other and grew close under the constant threat of death. Together they made a pact to hold a reunion when they all got back home. That reunion never happened. All but Royal died in combat, the last three in Goodman’s arms.


Royal’s homecoming was bittersweet. Thankful that he lived to see his family again, he was dismayed by the taunts of opponents of the war yelling, “baby killers” as he left the tarmac. Turning to a fellow soldier, he suggested that perhaps it would be better just to go back to Vietnam.


As a result of his service, Goodman, Specialist 4, earned the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic Vietnam Campaign Medal w/devices, Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Achievement, and Rifle Sharpshooter.  After he was Honorably Discharged from the United States Army, all that was missing was his high school diploma. That was taken care of Monday night.


In a crowded boardroom at Chowchilla High School, The CUHS board awarded Goodman his high school diploma 48 years after he traded the classroom for jungles and rice paddies.


While working as a volunteer at the Veterans Hospital, Goodman had discovered something called Operation Recognition-Veterans Diploma Project. According to the Education code, a high school district, unified school district, or county office of education may retroactively grant a high school diploma to a person who is a veteran of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or was interned by order of the federal government during World War II. Goodman apprised the CUHS administration of the project, and on March 5, 2018, the school board gave its approval of the program.


The next step was to bestow this recognition on Goodman. He became Chowchilla’s poster veteran for the diploma project.


As Ronald Seals, CUHS superintendent, presented Goodman to the audience, he called for a moment of silence in honor of the five “brothers” Royal had to leave in Vietnam.


On December 23rd, Royal and his high school sweetheart, Patricia (Mayfield) Goodman, will celebrate 49 years of marriage. They have 3 children: Tricia Espinola, Miranda LaCount, and Royal (Jason) Goodman.  They also have 6 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.

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