SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Graduation ceremonies are going on up and down the coast. Whether it's a family or friend, it's a cherished time of the year. NewsChannel 3 spoke with one soon-to-be graduate with a very special story.
December 7, 1941 will not only live in infamy as President Roosevelt proclaimed, it was also a day that motivated so many young Americans to join the war effort after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
"We couldn't wait to be 17 years old so we could sign up for the service," saids Paul Lopez. "My folks didn't want to sign for me at 16, so it was kinda hard waiting to be 17. The day I was 17, I was gone!"
Gone to the naval recruiting office in Los Angeles with several of his buddies. Lopez was born to Mexican immigrants. He was eager to serve his country to give back what was given to him and his eight brothers and sisters.
Give he did -- serving in the Pacific Theater. Lopez fought in some of the major battles taught in the military academies even today.
As a gunner's mate on board the U.S.S. Maryland, Lopez also lived through multiple Kamikaze and Torpedo attacks.
"On my 19th birthday, June 1944, my ship was torpedoed at Saipan. It didn't do that much damage, but we limped into Pearl Harbor and I got to see President Roosevelt," said Lopez.
Although he never graduated, Lopez ingrained Santa Barbara Don pride in his children
"That was the tough part, you know, not being able to graduate," he said.
Santa Barbara High School is one of the largest high schools in the state. Generations have walked down its hill for graduation. 69 years later, Lopez will finally make that walk toward his diploma.
Administrators at Santa Barbara High are now honoring people of the 'great generation.'
Lopez will receive the honor alongside his grandson, Diego. It's graduation day for both of them.
"It's something really special that not a lot of people get to do and I'm really glad that I get the chance to and I'm really honored that I get to stand next to the man that I admire most in this world," said Diego Lopez.
Santa Barbara High School graduation will take place Thursday, June 6. There will be at least five other World War two veterans making the walk down the hill as well.