A special guest at a Carlsbad middle school's graduation ceremony made the day even more meaningful for students.
Howard Dungan, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, went to Aviara Oaks Middle School's ceremony because of a special bond he has with a student, and it all started with a letter.
Dungan was there to support the kids and did not expect the attention to turn to him.
The announcement was made that he was a WWII veteran, and one by one strangers started thanking him.
"I was born French, and had it not been for what you did, I may not have been born," one man said to Dungan. "Thank you very, very much."
"Thank you for your service," another said after taking off his hat and shaking Dungan's hand.
"I feel kind of apologetic because my wartime experiences were not as great as so many people," Dungan said.
The students saw it differently. They wrote letters to him three years ago to thank him for his service.
He was so touched that he showed up personally to thank them. He has feel connected to the class ever since.
One in particular touched his heart.
"We are buddy bear friends," Dungan said with a laugh.
Student Dharma Dorazio gave him a keychain that day. It was supposed to have two plastic bears, but he cherished the one and still keeps it in his car.
"It meant a lot because I didn't know he was going to do that," Dorazio explained with tears in her eyes.
"He drove all the way here from his house," she said. "That makes me happy."
It was quite a drive from Spring Valley to Carlsbad.
Dungan has taught her a lot about history, having served in the Air Force as a pilot who flew B-25 bombers. It was her turn to teach him his part in it mattered.
"You helped a lot, too," she said. "You helped because if you weren't there some of the things wouldn't have happened."
Dungan looked at her and smiled.
"It makes you feel kind of soft inside," Dungan said.
He saw that beside the lei he gave her, the other buddy bear was around her neck.
"It's like our friendship together," Dorazio said.