WW2 vets end up as roommates, best buds at MN rehab center

A pair of 90-year-old patients at a Minnesota rehab center found out they have much more in common than being hospitalized for health problems. Even though they were born nearly 700 miles apart, Elvin Ewert and Francis Laqua lived parallel lives.

They were both drafted during WWII, and were both Browning Automatic Riflemen in the same infantry division, "Tropic Lightning," in the Philippines. They each fought in one of the bloodiest conflicts in the waning years of the war, the Battle of Balete Pass.

Both were injured in combat and awarded a Purple Heart.

"People ask you what did you think of the war? You don't. Everyone is in the same shoes. You didn't have time to be scared," Ewert said.

After the war, both men moved back to the Midwest. Ewert moved to Mountain Lake, Minn. and Laqua went to Williston, North Dakota, where they both got married and raised families.

But they never met or crossed paths until they ended up as roommates at the Birchwood Rehab Center in Forest Lake a few days ago.

"It was crazy. You didn't know what to think. It was ironic," Ewert said.

"It's the first time in 70 years that I've run into a guy in my division. And I'm the first one he's run into," Laqua said.

Even though Ewert and Laqua share a lot of similarities, they have more differences than just their physical therapy regimens. For instance, Ewert has shrapnel in his left leg, while Laqua still has shards of metal in his right.

You might think these brothers in arms would sit around sharing war stories all day. But what do they talk about? - "Whatever comes along. Whatever girl walks by," they laughed.

Now these former strangers feel like life-long friends.

"Its been very good. Its so unusual. What can you say?" Ewert said.

"We get along like a couple of buddies. Old buds. Young buds," Laqua said.

It won't be long before Ewert and Laqua go their separate ways, but their parallel lives will be intertwined from now on.

"It's not too often this sort of thing happens. That you run into someone. Neither one of us had an idea this could happen," Ewert said.