By Alexandra Zaslow / People
March 10, 2015

 

What started as an unlikely friendship between two neighbors grew into a beautiful bond.

The family of Emmett Rychner, 4, lived next door to 90-year-old WWII veteran Erling Kindem in Farmington, Minnesota, for the past decade, but only in the last year did Emmet and Erling become best friends, according to KARE 11. But then they were forced to split apart when Emmett’s family moved away and Kindem went into a retirement home.

That didn’t stop them from continuing to hang out. Emmett’s parents take him to the retirement home regularly and paid Kindem a special visit on March 1 to celebrate his 90th birthday, when the boy gave his older pal a present he’d never forget.

After singing “Happy Birthday,” Emmett pulled out two boxes, one for each other them. What was inside? Two dog tags, one reading “Emmett and Erling” and the other saying “Friends Forever.”

It all began when Emmett first became intrigued by Kindem’s tomato garden.

“Every time he saw me out there, he’d come running over,” Erling told KARE 11. “[Emmett would ask,] ‘Erling got any ‘mattoes?’ ”

From the beginning of their friendship, the pair has spent time together drawing pictures, riding bikes and lawnmowers and learning from each other.

“It is very special,” Emmett’s mom, Anika Rychner, said about their relationship.

When it was time for Emmett to leave the birthday party, Kindem said to him, “You come back again.”

“I will, eventually,” Emmett replied, and then went in for a heartfelt embrace. “Happy Birthday, Erling.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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