This year the Santa Barbara High School (SBHS) graduating class was a little bigger than usual. Walking down the hill from SBHS’s campus to the ceremony at Peabody Stadium, the 2017 high-school seniors were accompanied by five World War II vets, one of whom was Santa Barbara native Gilbert Ramirez.
Scheduled to graduate with the class of 1945, Ramirez left his junior year of high school behind to join the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. Wanting to follow in his brother Danny’s footsteps, Ramirez joined the forces during the decline of World War II, serving his time in the Marshall Islands with the Navy, fueling ships that frequented the Pacific Ocean. “I felt that it was my duty to join,” said Ramirez, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday at the James Joyce in Santa Barbara. “I don’t know why, but I don’t feel 90. I feel younger than that,” says Ramirez. “Even though I’m 90 years old, if they wanted me, I would go back into the service.”
Ramirez joined the forces at a time when he needed his mother’s signature in order to go to war because he was underage. His deployment overseas came to a close at the age of 19. Upon returning to Santa Barbara, Ramirez spoke of the excitement in seeing his family and friends again. It was June 8 of this year that he, along with four other veterans, returned to his old high school to receive his honorary diploma. “We were recognized,” said Ramirez. “It was beautiful. Everyone was taking our pictures and shaking our hands. We felt like celebrities.” Few now leave high school education to join U.S. military service, and Ramirez, remembering a time where he once said, “I just wanted to go out into the action,” says that he now heavily values the importance of education. Still, he remarks, “I think it’s good to spend some time in the service. Our world is changing a lot, and we have to protect our country.”