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Navy veterans reunite at Wilsonville retirement community after 60 years

Decades after saying goodbye, an old photo brought the friends together, though they'd been living in the same retirement community without realizing.

WILSONVILLE, Ore. — For retired Navy veterans Bob Armsby and Howard "Hod" Wells, a walk down memory lane is as simple as circling the lobby of their retirement community, SpringRidge at Charbonneau in Wilsonville. 

They pause in front the Wall of Honor, where about two dozen framed military portraits sit neatly atop rows of shelves. A few of the subjects served in World War II. Some portraits are black and white and every photo represents a resident currently living at SpringRidge, including Armsby and Wells.

"There are a lot of people here who are veterans and they're all very proud of their service," 86-year-old Wells said.

Armsby, 84, and Wells met in 1962. They were stationed in Guam where they helped repair damaged military installations after Typhoon Karen. Armsby was an architect, Wells was a civil engineer.

"We worked together, we shared responsibility for a really big job," Armsby said.

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While serving in Guam, Armsby got married and Wells was his best man. The two became close friends until Wells transferred to New Mexico in 1964. After that, they lost touch.

"You end up not dragging along old friendships, which is a problem," Wells said.

About seven years ago, Armsby moved to SpringRidge. A few years later, Wells and his wife moved there, too. But neither one of them realized it until just months ago.

"Hod saw my picture," Armsby said. "'Hey, I know that guy!'"

Charbonneau's community newspaper had printed Armsby's old military photo in their anural directory of veterans.

"It was definitely a double take," said Wells, who picked up the phone and called his old friend.

"I said, 'Hod! Great! Where are you?'" Recalled Armsby. "I had no idea he was here ... 60 years later!"

The friends agreed it was strange that they hadn't recognized each other in passing before the photo connected them, though they understand why that probably was.

"Sixty years ago I had hair!" said Wells. "And so did I," laughed Armsby.

RELATED: No, Veterans Day does not honor active-duty service members

The sailors' reunion has warmed he hearts of SpringRidge staff including activities director, Cindy Foster.

"Isn't it fun?" Foster said, noting she's seen other old friends reconnect in their community. "They're very proud to have served and it's so important for us to reach out and honor them."

Both Wells and Armsby landed in Oregon to be closer to family. Wells grew up in Beaverton, but Armsby is from California; just some of the little details they would have never discussed in the service.

"Here we were on Guam," Wells said. "It didn't matter where we came from — when the hell were we going to get out of here?"

Both friends admit 60 years was a long time to catch up on. 

"We did an awful lot of the 'Well, what the hell have you been doing?'" Wells said.

Now, there are new memories to make.

"We haven't played golf together," chuckled Wells. "I'll get out and see if [Armsby] plays golf as well as he eludes to."

RELATED: No, Veterans Day has not always been observed on Nov. 11

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