WWII Vet receives diploma after 73 years

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – He fought for his country, and that kept Dennis Baca from graduating from high school more than 70 years ago. But Wednesday evening, the Albuquerque man was finally given that honor in a special ceremony.

Baca left the old Albuquerque High School location decades ago for what he says was his duty to country. But getting a high school diploma has always meant a lot to him, and Wednesday, he finally got it.

No one has been looking forward to this day like 89-year-old Dennis Baca. His family said he’s waited 73 years.

At a special ceremony, Baca was dressed in a full green donated cap and gown and surrounded by family and friends.

“We want to thank you for your service to our country,” announced Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks.

The school board honored the World War II Army veteran with something very special.

“Very important, that’s all he talks about is going to the war and not getting his diploma,” explained Desiree Sanchez, Baca’s granddaughter.

Baca was a teenager, close to graduating from Albuquerque High School when he left to fight in the Pacific during World War II.

“I was happy to have served my country,” said Baca.

But the war kept him from graduating with classmates.

“This diploma from Albuquerque High School on June 18th 2014,” announced Albuquerque High’s principal, as he handed the document to Baca.

Now, more than 70 years later, Baca was greeted with cheers, handshakes and congratulations.

“You’re such an inspiration,” one woman told Baca.

He didn’t walk with his classmates, but instead, alongside the generations he’s inspired, family he’s encouraged to stay dedicated and stay in school.

“They didn’t encourage you to go back back then,” explained Sanchez. “He just got a job and started working and had a family. He used to take us, me and my sister and my cousin Michelle (to school).”

Baca suffers from PTSD and lost a lot of comrades in the war. He fought for his country, and his family said he fought for this small victory. It’s an honor he’s proud of, his new diploma from Albuquerque High.

After the war, Baca returned to Albuquerque, started a family, and worked at the V.A. for about 30 years before he retired. Baca’s is the seventh veterans’ diploma ceremony that APS has given since 2005, when the legislature allowed school districts to do that.

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