Three World War II veterans, all best friends, graduated from high school on June 13th – 71 years after being drafted to serve in the war.
Julian Lopez, Tony Romero, and Lupe Malacate, all 90, were forced to drop out of school to serve in the military.
Joining the trio was Lopez’s wife, Henrietta. She was also forced to drop out of school when she married Lopez days before he was deployed to the Pacific.
“Oh, my God, we feel so grateful,” Henrietta Lopez said about graduating. “I didn’t believe we were going to do this. I still can’t believe we did it. I’m sure there were a lot of young men who were ready to graduate, and they didn’t.”
110 of their classmates were sent to the war and these three are the only ones still alive.
“We’ve known each other since we were kids in grammar school,” Julian said. The three veterans have been best friends since then. Henrietta is the newest member of the group. She met Julian when they were 15 years old. “All of this, I guess, was meant to be,” she said. “Julian and I were married on June 11, and he was off to war on June 8, 1944.”
Before the ceremony, Julian said, “I’m more nervous than when they drafted me!” The graduation was arranged by Julian’s daughter, Connie Miranda. Over the course of a year, she pushed the Los Angeles United School District to recognize the four as graduates.
“I’ve heard many stories over the years of him being drafted, and one day I just asked him if he wants to get his diploma,” she said. “He looks at me and says, ‘Yes.’”
The families took effort to make the experience as much like their original high school experience as possible. “Each of their families was so excited,” Miranda said. “It was like a normal graduation – we wanted the balloons, confetti, and the party. It was so much fun.”
“I’m very proud of him,” Christian Garcia, Malacate’s only grandson, said. “He served in the military as a Latino back then during a difficult time.”
Malacate was the only member of the group to see combat. If it wasn’t for a helmet that saved him from a bullet, he would likely not have lived to see his graduation.
“He was joking around that he wants to go to college on the GI Bill,” Garcia said.