Instead of graduating from Las Cruces Union High School — predecessor to Las Cruces High School — with the Class of ’43, George Chavez went off to war, but the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education recognized the 86-year-old veteran Tuesday with a long-awaited high school diploma, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
“We don’t want him to wait another moment,” said schools Superintendent Stan Rounds before presenting Chavez with his diploma, the Sun-News said.
Chavez was the only student from his graduating class at the old high school to be drafted prior to graduation, and in 1942 was on his way to England aboard the Queen Mary, which had been converted into a troopship, the paper reported.
“I was drafted. I had no choice,” Chavez told the Sun-News. “The rest of my friends were drafted later. They got to finish school.”
Chavez spent nearly three years in the European Theater of Operations, stationed in England, Scotland, and — after taking part in the Normandy invasion on D-Day 1944 — in Belgium and Germany, the paper reported.
After returning from the war, Chavez returned to the Mesilla Valley and “never really thought about” having his high school diploma until about six months ago, he thought about the next stage of his career, he told the Sun-News.
Chavez joked about having several career possibilities, maybe even going to Harvard or Cambridge, “just something to keep me busy,” he told the paper.
“I hope they’ll be proud of me,” Chavez said of his children, all of whom are Las Cruces High School graduatess. “I’m joining them. Finally.”
The state Department of Veterans Services began a program in 2003 to help any World War II or Korean War veteran who was drafted before graduation get their high school diploma, and nearly 150 veterans have participated, the Sun-News said.