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School honors WWII vet w/long-awaited diploma

January 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A World War II veteran in his 80s finally got a chance to graduate at a special ceremony at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles on Thursday."Congratulations sir, you are now an official graduate and alumni of James A. Garfield High School," school principal Jose Huerta said proudly to Hilberto Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, 86, left high school to serve his country during a time of war.

"Although he experienced and accomplished many great feats in his life, there was one thing needed to fulfill his story, and that is to receive his Garfield High School diploma," said Huerta.

Hilberto was only 17 years old when he left Garfield High School and enlisted in the Marines. He served in the Pacific Theater, taking part in the bloody battles on the island of Tarawa.

"I brought back one of your own, and one of your proudest Garfield Bulldogs, my dad. Thank you," said Hilberto's son, Jorge Rodriguez.

Jorge Rodriguez is one of Hilberto's three children. He said his father always regretted never having finished high school, so Jorge worked with Los Angeles Unified School District officials to organize the special graduation ceremony.

"What was important to me at age 17 was mainly getting my homework done, maybe talking on the phone, watching TV, getting the crease in my pants before I went to school," said Jorge Rodriguez. "In his 17-year-old life, it was staying alive and saving other people's lives."

Hilberto's comments at the podium were brief.

"Make sure you go to college," the veteran said.

While he might be short on words, his legacy at Garfield High School will live on.