Two men reunite 50 years after serving in Air Force

By Elizabeth Sias

When Arnie Carlson and his wife moved into GracePointe Crossing recently, Arnie was shocked to find an old comrade by the name of Virgil Collins.

Arnie Carlson, left, and Virgil Collins were reunited recently when Carlson moved into the assisted living building at GracePointe Crossing. The two served together in the Air Force over 50 years ago and hadn’t seen each other since. Here, Virgil shows a photograph of Carlson in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

The two men served together in the Air Force over 50 years ago, but hadn’t seen each other since then until their reunion in the assisted living building at GracePointe Crossing.

Carlson and his wife Norma moved into GracePointe Crossing a month ago from Pine Village. They had heard Collins, who has been living at GracePointe Crossing for 15 years, was living there, but hadn’t contacted him.

When the Carlsons ended up in The Commons — the same apartment building with Collins — they were shocked but thrilled to see each other after over 50 years.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Collins said. “Norma wanted to know what it was like when we met each other for the first time.”

“Small world,” Norma said.

Ever since then, the two have spent a lot of time together at GracePointe Crossing, but Carlson’s loss of hearing has made reminiscing difficult.

Both Carlson, 81, and Collins, 80, enlisted in the Air Force because they didn’t want to be drafted in the Army.

They first met in 1952 on the train from Minneapolis to San Antonio, Texas, that carried hundreds of men to Lackland Air Force Base. When they arrived, it was so full that they didn’t have enough beds or food for all of the enlistees.

“There was such a rush of enlistees because the Korean War was going on and the draft system was pulling them in as fast as they could to get them trained,” Collins said. “That’s the reason there were so many of us. We didn’t want to get drafted in the Army because in the Army the first thing they do is hand you a rifle, and we didn’t like that idea.”

Soon after reaching San Antonio, they were shipped to Sheppard Air Force Base, where they had basic training.

The men also spent time together in Frankfurt, Germany, where Collins was stationed.

After training, Carlson went into airplane mechanics, while Collins went into base flight control, so the men only spent a few months together before being separated.

Some of Collins’ favorite memories from his time in the Air Force were the opportunities he had to travel.

“I had a chance to see a lot of Europe,” he said, explaining that he visited London, Paris and many other cities.

Whether greeting each other in the hallway or discussing their experience in the Air Force, Carlson and Collins are glad to have each other at GracePointe Crossing.

“Arnie hasn’t changed. Except he had hair back then,” Collins joked.