An 88-year-old Tuskegee airman from San Diego and 34 students from La Jolla Country Day School will be among the hundreds of thousands of people crowding the nation's capital for the historic swearing-in of the first U.S. president of African ancestry.

"To me, it's akin to when man landed on the moon," George Mitchell, a Tuskegee airman who lives in Webster, told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "It's something I never thought would happen, certainly not in my lifetime."

About 225 members of the all-black, World War II-era unit have accepted invitations to attend the inauguration on Tuesday.

"I can remember coming into Washington back in the '40s, and we couldn't get anything to eat at the diners," Mitchell told the newspaper. "We had to go around the corner, knock on a window and place our orders. They'd return with the food, hand it out the window and then you'd try to find someplace to squat and eat, usually in a doorway."

Dolores Van Rensalier, 68, said she sees in President-elect Barack Obama a struggle with racial identity similar to hers.

"I am so proud of my country," she told the newspaper.

Van Rensalier, who is of mixed race, grew up believing she was white.

"Due to the economic oppression of the times, my parents decided to pass for white and move from New York to San Diego," she said. "My birth certificate says I'm white and both parents are white."

But when she went to school, black classmates weren't fooled by her light skin and hazel-green eyes. She was taunted about pretending to be something she wasn't. At age 7, she was beaten up and held down by kids who tried to light her pigtails on fire.

At 17, she left home "to lead a black life," transferring from Mission Bay High School to San Diego High School and getting work as a live-in housekeeper.

She eventually learned that back in Paterson, N.J., her great-grandfather, William Van Rensalier, was a black abolitionist active with the Underground Railroad.

"Here was a man who was proud of all that I am, as well as all that he was -- and not just prideful, but committed to doing all he could to change racism in America," she said.

Thirty-four students from La Jolla Country Day School are going to Washington to record interviews for the school's new digital archive. While the mall is packed, they will ask people what it was like when they were teenagers.

"Our goal is to get people who were in their teen years for every year from 1945 to the present," said Jonathan Shulman, who heads the school's history department.

Geoff Patnoe of Tierrasanta has been to three other presidential inaugurations. The self-described political junkie voted for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., but he still wants to be there.

Patnoe majored in political science, served as county Supervisor Dianne
Jacob's chief of staff and is now president of a local government-relations firm, Public Policy Strategies.

"I enjoy being out there for it, seeing history happen," he said. "This time, I think there is a certain buzz and excitement that you can even feel all the way in San Diego."

San Diego State University student Prince Sefa-Boakye, 19, and his family are going.

"I feel like this is a chance for the country to start over again and get it right," he told the newspaper, calling the inauguration "a-once in-a-lifetime event."

About 240,000 tickets have been distributed for the inaugurations, but the national mall is expected to be jammed with many more people -- like Joseph Farmer, 55, of Oceanside.

Farmer, who's a member of the North County NAACP, said he was taking a tuxedo anyway.