The extraordinary bond between a little boy and a WWII veteran
By Sarah Larimer | The Washington Post | Published: November 2, 2016
The way Erling Kindem told it, the tomatoes brought them together.
"Every time he saw me out there, he would come running over," Kindem, a World War II veteran, told KARE, an NBC affiliate in Minneapolis. " 'Erling, got any 'matoes?' "
He is speaking of his dear friend and young next-door neighbor, Emmett Rychner, in Farmington, Minn. Although Rychner was just a boy and Kindem an elderly man, the pair grew close, and their friendship was featured on the local news.
"They kind of bonded over the tomatoes in his garden," Emmett's mother, Anika Rychner, told KARE. "Because Emmett loves tomatoes."
Emmett and his family eventually moved to a neighboring town. Erling moved, too. Still, the unlikely pair remained friends. Emmett sang "Happy Birthday" to Erling when he turned 90. He was there last month, too, when it was time to say goodbye to Erling one last time.
ABC News reports that Erling Kindem died in October, a few days after Emmett visited him.
Emmett was 3 years old and Erling 89 when KARE reported on their friendship. They raced lawn mowers, Emmett zipping around on a toy and Erling perched on the real thing.
"Emmett was the only kid on the block. There wasn't any other kids, so he would come over and knock on Dad's door," Erling's adult son, Charlie Kindem, told ABC News. "And he would say, 'Can Erling come out and play?' "
But at the time, both Emmett and Erling were headed for big changes. Emmett and his family were preparing to move to a new house; Erling was going to move to a senior apartment.
Even after the move, the friends still saw each other. For Erling's 90th birthday, KARE reported that Emmett gave his friend two sets of dog tags, which read "Emmett & Erling" and "Friends Forever," so that they could each wear one.
Charlie Kindem, Erling's son, told ABC News that his 91-year-old father died after suffering heart failure, a death that KARE also confirmed. Kindem told ABC that Emmett - who is now 6 years old - was able to visit with his friend and read a prayer to him.
KARE has reported that Erling Kindem was a veteran of World War II, who "flew combat missions in Europe." Kindem told ABC News that his father took part in more than two dozen missions.
Aside from his military service, Charlie Kindem remembered his father as a kind man, who had "all kinds of friends."
"He just made friends with everybody," he told ABC.
Boyd Huppert, the KARE reporter who has worked on the Erling-Emmett story, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he was frequently stopped by viewers who wanted to know about the pair.
"I'm not exaggerating," Huppert told the paper. "When I was at the [Minnesota] State Fair, I had probably a dozen or more people approach me and ask me about them. I'm going to miss that, honestly, as word gets out that he has passed away. I've dreaded this day because that ends now, and it was so much fun."