Navy buddies reunite after 40 years of searching for each other
NORTHGLENN, Colo. - A Northglenn man reunited with his best friend this weekend about 40 years after they last saw each other.
They were just teenagers when they became best friends as Navy shipmates during the Vietnam War.
"I was 17. He was 18," says Joe Martinez, about his age and that of his friend, Rick Mueller.
Finally, 43 years later, Martinez and Mueller were able to resume that friendship in their 60s. Rick turns 62 in December, and Joe will be 61.
"It feels the same. We just look different. We're old now," laughs Joe. "We were boys then."
Both are gray and a tad wrinkled now (and Rick sports a hearing aid), but their bond is as tight as it was four decades ago. "They called us M & M, Martinez and Mueller," says Joe about the nickname their shipmates gave them.
But just as war brought them together, life pushed them apart. Still, they never stopped thinking of each other.
"... Every day for the last 40-some years," says Rick.
Joe tried finding Rick, and Rick tried finding Joe -- but neither had any success.
The first time Rick tried reaching out was at a Denver gas station in 1976. He didn't have the Internet to help him out, but he did have a phone book and $5 worth of change.
"Just went down the phone book randomly, picked names. Called them up. 'Is this Joe Martinez? Yes. You in the Navy? No. Sorry,'" Rick says as he makes a motion of hanging up a phone.
Rick even named his first child after Joe. After nearly giving up, it took a letter to finally bring the two together -- 40 years later.
"I wrote this to him," says Joe. "Hey, Rick. I hope you're the same Rick I was in the Navy with. We were on the U.S.S White Plains AFS-4 ... I have been trying to reach you. You were my best friend. We were M & M and we called you Mud. If you're the same Rick, give me a call," Joe reads from the letter he wrote Rick.
Joe didn't immediately hear back from anyone, so he thought his search would continue -- until a call came in from Minnesota.
"I heard his voice, 'Is this Joe Martinez?' Then Joe screams, 'Rick!' I knew so quick (it was Rick)," says Joe.
"You could just feel the love over the airwaves," says Rick. The two talked for about two hours. "An hour of it was spent crying," jokes Rick. Then, that phone call turned into a visit to Joe's house in Northglenn Friday.
M & M were finally back together, and they were overjoyed and overcome by emotion.
Rick's wife, Marla, taped the reunion on her cell phone, which shows Joe dashing out of his house and into the arms of his long-lost buddy.
"My God buddy. I love you. I love you," Joe tells Rick. Their families are also ecstatic by a reunion 40 years in the making. "They're sharing all the love and joy with us," says Marla. The two share memories, show off matching tattoos, and promise to never let 40 years go by again.
"I haven't been this happy since I remember when," says Joe. "I'm going to cry about this day for the rest of my life," says Rick.
Joe owes finding Rick to his sister-in-law, Jennifer Williamson, who found Joe through a simple online search. She says she wishes she had known about Joe's quest much sooner because she found Rick in no time.
The Martinez's plan to visit Rick and his family in Le Sueur, Minnesota next year.
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