They have waited 71 years for this moment.
"I'm more nervous than when they drafted me!" retired U.S. Navy veteran Julian Lopez said as he anticipated something he had been wishing to receive for decades.
Julian Lopez, Tony Romero and Lupe Malacate were each drafted in 1944 to serve in World War II, forcing them to drop out of Abraham Lincoln High School in Los Angeles in their senior year.
U.S. & World
On Monday, more than seven decades after enlisting and a year and a half of fighting to be recognized as graduates by the Los Angeles Unified School District, they were to walk the stage as high school graduates.
"I was a basketball player – 5-foot 5, but I was pretty good!" Lopez, now 90 years old, said as he reminisced about his high school days.
Henrietta Lopez, Julian's wife, had dropped out too – back then you couldn't be a student if you were married. Julian left for the war five days after the wedding.
"We got married before he left," Henrietta said.
It's all thanks to their daughter, Connie Miranda. She got the ball rolling, pushing for the trio to be recognized as grads through the school district.
"I believe that anybody who served their country is entitled to all the benefits," Miranda said. "I think I might cry when I see them walk across the stage to get their diplomas."
Tony Romero, the youngest of the trio, will be 89 in September. He was just surprised at how sprightly all three senior grads remained.
"Fortunately the three of us are still around, so we must've been pretty healthy!" Romero said.
Malacate was the only one of the three to see combat in the war, fighting Nazis in Germany. A close call almost prevented his graduation day from happening.
"It's one thing I've always wanted. I don't know why, but I figured sooner or later you're going to need it," Malacate said. "I was fortunate that I just had a bullet go through my steel helmet - just went bing! But it didn't hit me."
The three were the tightest of friends back in high school, and on Monday evening, the three would be able to call themselves graduates – together.
"So we can go to college," Lopez laughed. "I'm looking for a job!"