Bob Dott and Sam Arneson are lifelong friends. But they didn’t know it until recently.
It was November 22, 1944. World War II was—in hindsight—winding down, but the notion of patriotic duty was still swelling. Two men, both 18 at the time, were strangers from Barneveld and Hollandale when they first boarded a bus in Dodgeville headed for Milwaukee. The two had the same purpose: to undergo a military medical exam. Both passed and enlisted in the United States Army. A deferment allowed Sam to finish the semester at University of Wisconsin‒Madison, so he was headed back home. Without a chance to say goodbye, Sam left Bob a note of good luck.
That day, on what Bob calls “the magic numbers of 11-22-44,” would always remain an important touchstone. It was their enlistment date and the precursor to a unique lifelong, albeit mostly absentee, friendship that they never saw coming. Bob was sent to Germany, and Sam served in Japan. Both were infantrymen. Bob escaped a death sentence associated with the Battle of the Bulge in Europe, and Sam was stationed to be a part of combat that never materialized thanks to Japan’s surrender.

Past Soldiers

After the war ended in 1945, the two finished out their service without knowing the fate of the other. Both returned to Madison to finish school, and each started his own business: Bob as an accountant in Beaver Dam, and Sam as an insurance agent in Barneveld and Madison.
Fast forward to 2022. Bob, who had been living in the Attic Angel Community for 18 years, was having lunch in Attic Angel’s Arbor Café when the nametag of a touring visitor caught his eye. Immediately, he recognized the name and asked, “Are you from Barneveld?” Sam replied in the affirmative.
“I know you!” said Bob, prying open his memory. And, even better, Bob unearthed the very note that Sam had left for him more than 77 years earlier. The two are now as close friends as can be.
“It was just incredible,” Sam recalls. “I don’t even remember writing the note.”

The scene couldn’t have played out any better if it had been written. Our past lives aren’t vestiges of our presents, but potential building blocks of opportunity to reconnect with something truly special that brought us to where we are today. We can’t anticipate when or where the chance will come to rekindle a memory, a moment, or a friendship, but when it comes around, we sure are quick to recognize it. We all should be so fortunate to have something meaningful from our past come back to enhance our lives going forward.

Kelly Cheramy is community outreach coordinator for Attic Angel Community.

Photographs provided by Attic Angel Community.

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