Local veteran to receive his high school diploma

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Luis Silva will be 91 years old in June. After that many decades of life, most people are concentrating on enjoying their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But Silva is looking forward to something most his age have long since passed up and maybe even forgotten — his high school graduation.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Holding a display of his medals and citations earned in World War II, Luis Silva will soon be getting the one commendation he’s been waiting for for nearly 80 years — his high school diploma. Silva will receive his diploma with the Belen High School class of 2014 since he was drafted and went off to war before he could get his in 1943.

“I always wanted to graduate,” Silva said. “I felt bad, but I was called to serve.”

Like many men of his generation, Silva was getting ready to enter what should have been years of youthful freedom fresh out of high school. Instead, in the spring of 1943, he was called to serve in World War II.

That was how he found himself, three weeks shy of his 21st birthday, on the sands of Normandy, fighting for his life. After three years in the Army, Silva returned home to Jarales where his heart always was. He married his sweetheart, Audelita “Billie,” and they are still a happy couple after 65 years. They had four children — Lora, Louise, Steve and Scotty.

Silva also got his old job back when he returned from the war, working for the Santa Fe Railway, loading ice into the cold cars.

When he was in school, he would wake up at 6 a.m. to walk to school, then come home and work a six-hour shift loading ice.

He wasn’t all work and no fun. While attending Belen High School, Silva lettererd for two years in football and basketball. He also played baseball in a local league. This was a time when the high school didn’t have a team, but baseball was a fiercely competitive sport among club teams here in the Rio Abajo.

Everyone heard the rumors about the draft, and with four brothers who had already been called to serve, Silva wasn’t surprised when his number came up.

In the meantime, he kept doing what he was doing — working and going to school.

“I was still underage but I wondered, ‘Should I quit school or my job?’ I didn’t though because I knew both would be important in life,” Silva said.

He still lives within ear shot of the train whistles and a stones-throw from the house where he was born and raised.

The rise of refrigerated box cars made Silva’s job loading ice obsolete, so he took a job working in the uranium mines in Grants for six years.

He then spent a year working on oil drilling rigs in Oklahoma. After his retirement in 1983, he was a dedicated foster grandparent at Gil Sanchez Elementary, an active member of his church and played senior softball in Albuquerque.

And now, after all those years, Silva will get the chance to do the one thing he’s left undone in his life.

On Tuesday, May 20, he will walk across the stage at the BHS football field and get his diploma. He did the work to earn it, but because we were a country at war, Silva didn’t have the opportunity to claim it.

“I am very proud,” he said. “I was always sad I missed that.”

When BHS Principal Rodney Wright got the call from Silva’s family about the possibility of him participating in the graduation ceremony, Wright said the answer was an immediate yes.

“I think this is an amazing thing for our graduates to see. It was a different time of commitment, of responsibilities, that we don’t have today. It was a different world then,” Wright said. “It is a great honor for Belen High School to be able to honor him with a diploma.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.