These war buddies bumped into each other in the most unusual place decades after they’d lost touch

ATHENS, Ga. — It started out as another day at the hospital for Jimmy Griggs and Doug Rutledge, but quickly turned into a day the two would never forget.

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Both Griggs and Rutledge’s wives had been sick and on the same day in early July the two women were in the emergency room at Athens Regional Medical Center at the same time.

Their husbands sat in the waiting room, just feet apart, having no idea the decades-old connection they shared.

Griggs says a simple decision as he left home that morning led to the reunion of two war buddies — grabbing his Purple Heart, Vietnam veteran hat.

As Griggs sat in the waiting room wearing his hat, Rutledge, a veteran himself, noticed it and asked Griggs about his time in Vietnam.

Griggs told him he was on combat duty with the 25th division for eight months and then transferred to Vung Tau for a security detail.

“He said, ‘What’s your name?’” Griggs recalled. “I said, ‘Jimmy Griggs.’ And he said, ‘The Hunk!’ I almost fell out of the chair when I heard that. I hadn’t heard that name since I left Vietnam.”

Turns out, Griggs and Rutledge had served together in the same guard group in Vung Tau for nearly a year before Griggs was shipped back to combat.

“Of course, 47 years, he didn’t recognize me and I didn’t recognize him,” said Griggs. “It’s amazing how it happened. I’m still floored over it.”

The two men became good friends during their time in Vung Tau.

“We were pretty close. We’d go downtown together on our off time,” Griggs said. “We planned to stay in touch and then we just got separated and we just never got in contact again.”

Griggs says he always wondered what happened to Rutledge.

“You have a friend one day and you don’t know the next day, the next hour,” Griggs said about his time in Vietnam.

Rutledge never forgot about his war buddy, either. A picture of Griggs standing outside a warehouse in Vietnam still sits in the pages of Rutledge’s photo album from his days in the war, with the caption “The ‘Hunk’ Griggs” written below.

In 47 years, Griggs says both men have changed a lot, but their connection from their days in Vietnam still remains.

“Being in combat and fighting, you just get a camaraderie with your friends. You might have only known them for a month, but you know so much about them it’s like you grew up with them in a way. We all were brothers there,” Griggs said.

The two men have lived in the same city for nearly 30 years, but never knew their old friend was just across town. Griggs moved to Athens in 1971, the year after he got out of the service. He worked at the U.S Navy School until he retired in 2009. Rutledge moved there in 1986 and founded a contracting business.

Griggs says they could’ve been within feet of each other many times over the past four decades, and never known. And it would’ve continued that way, if it weren’t for a hat Griggs says he rarely wears.

“If I hadn’t been wearing the hat, he never would’ve known I was there,” he said.

Griggs’ wife of 44 years, Mary, died just days after that fateful meeting. He’s now adjusting to life without his wife, but has an old friend to help him through.

“It just was meant to be, I guess. I was going through some bad times and he was having some bad times with his wife and we just sort of helped each other after that,” Griggs said.

Tuesday night, Griggs and Rutledge had dinner together and looked through some old slides. The two say they plan to stay in touch.

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