May 27, 2004
New Mexico Public Education Department
300 Don Gaspar
Santa Fe, NM 87501-2786

Ruth Williams
Public Outreach Director
(505) 476-0393

First World War II Veteran to Receive High School Diploma at Mora High Graduation on Saturday

(Santa Fe, NM)--José Teofilo Sánchez, 80, of Denver, Colorado has waited 61 years to receive his high school diploma. On Saturday, May 29, 2004, at 10:00 a.m., at the Mora High School commencement ceremony, he will become the state’s first World War II veteran to receive a high school diploma under rules recently approved by Secretary of Education Dr. Veronica C. García.

Sanchez will join 39 graduating seniors in the Mora High School gymnasium, located at Hwy. 518, Ranger Drive. Presenting his diploma will be Alan Martinez, director of State Benefits for the Department of Veterans’ Services.

“The veterans of World War II belong to the Greatest Generation and our state and country owe them a great debt of gratitude. This program allows the people of New Mexico to offer a small token of appreciation as recognition to these heroes of World War II. These men and women never had the opportunity to graduate because at a young age they joined the Armed Forces to defend our great nation. This program shows that it’s never to late to honor our heroes,” said Secretary of Veterans’ Services John Garcia.

Sánchez was born in El Oro, near Ledoux, New Mexico. He was drafted in 1943, the year he would have graduated from what is now Mora High School. He left school instead to serve in the Navy. As Seaman 1st Class, Sánchez served on the U.S.S. California. The ship set sail in May 1944 for the South Pacific and was involved in extensive minesweeping operations off the South China coast. Sánchez served in the Navy from 1943 to 1945. He and his wife of 58 years, Viola Beroniz Espinoza, have three daughters, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The couple are former residents of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and recently moved to Colorado.

House Bill 125 of 2003 authorized the Secretary of Education to establish rules allowing local school boards to issue high school diplomas to qualified World War II veterans. The following requirements must be met: honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces, scheduled to graduate from high school after 1940 and before 1951, a resident of New Mexico and attended a high school in the locality of the current school district and left high school before graduation to serve in World War II.

For more information, contact Pat Concannon at the Public Education Department (PED) at 505-827-6525 or Alan Martinez at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs at 505-827-6374.

To view a biography of José Teofilo Sánchez please click here. Also, please view the following photographs. Click here to view Mr. Sánchez who is the second sailor from the left. Click here to view a photograph of Mr. Sánchez and click here to view a photograph of Mr. Sánchez's ship the USS California.