Veteran graduate Guadalupe Lopez stands as crowd applauds his achievements | Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Education Office

The Santa Barbara County Education Office awarded five honorary high school diplomas in an event dubbed “Operation Recognition” to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, who were unable to complete their high school educations due to their military service.

The five graduates honored in the April 7 ceremony were Guadalupe Lopez, who served in the Vietnam War; Modesto T. Cardenas, who served in the Korean War; and Marcos Ramirez Carrillo, Shukichi Hokedo, and Jesus Torres Jr.,  who all served in World War II. Lopez was the only graduate to attend the ceremony, the other four having passed away, though their family members were able to attend and accept the diploma on their loved ones’ behalf.

The emotional event drew officials from Solvang, Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara, including mayors, councilmembers, police chiefs, school boardmembers, and members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. A short video with family testimonials was made for each graduate, exploring each of their respective histories leading up to their service, and the loss they felt being unable to complete their high school educations.

Most of the graduates were Santa Maria or Santa Barbara residents, though some were from other areas of California and settled in Santa Barbara County later in life. Lopez and Cardenas were from Santa Maria and attended and would have graduated from Santa Maria High School. Torres Jr. grew up in Santa Barbara and attended Santa Barbara High School. Hokedo and Ramirez Carrillo lived in Orange County and East Los Angeles, respectively, and later they or their children would move to Santa Barbara County. 

Some graduates, like Torres Jr., were drafted their senior year of high school once they turned 18. Torres Jr. was not the only member of his family to serve in the military, but he was the only sibling that served before he could complete his high school education, according to his daughter, Ana Torres, who represented him for the graduation. 

Guadalupe Lopez | Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Education Office

Ramirez Camarillo was 17 when he enlisted in the army, able to receive his parents permission to sign up when he was in the 11th grade. His daughter Molly Carrillo-Walker, who spoke in the testimonial and represented him in the ceremony alongside her sister Julia C. Cory, said her father’s experience of not finishing high school weighed heavily on him and encouraged him to show his children the value of education. “The message of education for all of us was building to wherever it is you need to go and to whatever it is you think is important,” she said

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Lopez’s niece, Anita Zazueta, said Lopez had left high school in the 9th grade to work and support his family, but that he was always a strong advocate for education. “He’s had a successful business for 35 years: You would never know that he never graduated,” said Lopez’s daughter, Melanie Fennell. Zazueta said she could see how proud her uncle was of himself, just in his smile and posture. “He’s standing so proud and so straight. He’s so proud, as he should be,” she said. Lopez’s family seemed to be the biggest group in attendance, and after walking off the stage, Lopez was bombarded by his children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren lining up to take a photo with him as he posed proudly in his cap and gown.

Hokedo was represented at the ceremony by his son, Paul Hokedo. Shukichi Hokedo had been one of 120,000 Japanese-American citizens forced into internment camps in the 1940s after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Paul said his father did not often talk about his time in the camps, but he knew it had affected him deeply. His father lost his sister while their family was incarcerated at the Poston Internment Camp in Arizona.

Japanese Americans men were given a choice to stay in the camps or fight for the American Armed Forces, and Hokedo and his brother made the decision to fight. “That takes a lot of courage and takes a lot of heart. It takes a special person to overcome that kind of adversity,” Paul said. Despite the injustice of Americans like Hokedo being unlawfully imprisoned, Paul said Hokedo was very proud of his service. “He kinda pushed us to be better in all aspects of our life,” Paul said. “I know he’s smiling down on us, that we’re taking the time to do this for him.”

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