Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Among the crowd of high school seniors in Utica, who eagerly waited four years to graduate on Friday, a senior citizen took his seat on the stage.
Renato Roefaro left school at the age of 16, joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, to help earn money for his family.
His early public service, prepared young Roefaro for the day he found his mother in tears on December 7, 1941.
"We were all shooting the breeze and playing cards and having fun and all at once we heard this Pearl Harbor was bombed," Roefaro recalled. "I went home and my mother is crying. I says, 'What are you crying for? For God's sake what are you crying for?' She says, 'How old are you?' I said, 'Twenty'. She said, 'That's why I'm crying because you are going to be gone soon'."
Drafted at the age of 20, Roefaro served three and a half years in the army - earning four metals - a service to his country that put special moments of life on hold, such as graduation.
“I missed all these things. That is really the best time of your life when you are in high school,” Roefaro said.
But, there are no regrets for the Utica native, only an appreciation for his blessings as he faced a standing ovation from a new generation on Friday.
“I was very very proud of what I've done. My military life was very very good. I learned a lot of things," Roefaro said. “That's why I am the luckiest guy in the world."
“And if I had to do it over again. I would still do it over again," Roefaro said.
Roefaro was one of six World War II veterans to receive diplomas in Utica Friday night as part of Operation Recognition.
If you'd like to see a veteran honored, click here