After 71 years, three World War II veterans who also happen to be best friends, graduated from high school together on Monday just in time for Father’s Day.
The trio of heroes walked across the stage at Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles to collect their long overdue diplomas. Julian Lopez, Tony Romero and Lupe Malacate, all now 90, were drafted in 1944 to serve in World War II, forcing them to drop out of school.
Not to be outdone was Lopez’s wife, Henrietta, who joined her husband in receiving her high school diploma. Henrietta, 89, married Julian just days before he was deployed to fight in the Pacific. She too was forced to drop out of school because she was prohibited from attending because she was married.
“Oh, my God, we feel so grateful,” Henrietta Lopez told Fox News Latino 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.”
According to NBC 4 Los Angeles, which first reported on this story, 110 of their classmates went to serve in World War II, and they are the only three still alive.
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“We’ve known each other since we were kids in grammar school,” Julian told Fox News Latino.
The three vets have been best friends since then, in fact. The newcomer to the group, Henrietta, met Julian when they were 15 years old in junior high science class.
“All of this, I guess, was meant to be,” she said. “Julian and I got married on June 11, and he was off to war on June 18, 1944.”
Julian told NBC 4 before the graduation ceremony, “I’m more nervous than when they drafted me!”
He added, “I was a basketball player – 5-foot-5, but I was pretty good!”
Julian told Fox News Latino, “Well, I was so proud. I just like helping the country. I’m a proud ex-sailor.”
The graduation was setup by Julian’s daughter, Connie Miranda, who, through a year-long process, 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 told FNL. “He looks at me and says, 'Yes.'”
The families wanted to make sure the experience was as much like their original high school graduation 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.”
Christian Garcia, 28, was there to see his grandfather, Malacate, graduate.
“Everybody lost it,” Garcia said of the crowd at graduation.
Malacate told Gacia he felt nervous because there were so many people there.
“I’m very proud of him,” Garcia, Malacate’s only grandson, said. “He served in the military as a Latino back then during a difficult time.”
Malacate was the only one of the three amigos to see combat as a member of the U.S. Army. In fact, his graduation wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a helmet that saved him from an incoming bullet.
Despite that, Malacate kept his sense of humor about his time in the Army and how it altered the course of his life.
“He was joking around that he wants to go to college on the G.I. bill,” Garcia said.