By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4)– When Lee Tulper and Ben Trujillo signed on to fight for their country in World War II, neither teenager had an inkling of the devastation they would see, the injuries they would suffer, and the lifelong friendship that would emerge from their chance meeting on a battlefield in Europe.
“It is just something that happens to your heart that is real… you have a love for that person that has been a part of your life all these years,” said Trujillo who is 94.
The native of Watrous, New Mexico lied about his age so he could join the army at age 17 and fight in World War II.
Tulper, 94, a Denver native, had also enlisted in the Army and was sent overseas to join the war effort.
Tulper was a radioman and was sent to the front lines. Trujillo, an infantryman, had already been on the front lines and his unit was being moved back. Neither man knew the other. But as their divisions crossed paths, Trujillo approached Tulper to ask some questions about the radioman’s job.
“I look across the road and I saw this big aerial and I always wondered how communication worked so I went across the road and said something to him.”
They only spoke for a minute or two and left without knowing each other’s names. Tulper only remembered that Trujillo was from the Western United States, which was unusual.
”I remember that he was from New Mexico and in my group we didn’t have anyone from the West, hardly at all. They were all from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”
The divisions moving in opposite directions, each man quickly left and thought nothing more of the exchange.
Trujillo, a combat medic, would lose a leg during a firefight in Germany. He was later awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Tulper would also suffer life-altering injuries, losing his hearing on the battlefield. He, too, received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
When the war ended, Tulper returned to Denver and went to work in his family’s jewelry store . Trujillo would coincidentally end up in Denver as well, going to watchmaking school.
One day, Trujillo’s boss needed some parts so sent Trujillo to Tulper’s jewelry store.
“I went in and this guy came to the counter,” said Trujillo, ”and I looked at him and for some reason I said to him, ‘Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?’ He started to walk away and it hit me, ‘I know! You were the guy with the big aerial.’”
Tulper recalls the chance meeting this way, “When he walked in, we just looked at each other. There was something about him that stayed with me. I know this guy!”
The men quickly reviewed their chance encounter in Europe and now a second chance encounter sparked a friendship that would span the next 70 years.
Tulper says Trujillo became a store manager for Zales, “and we had contact almost every single day.”
The men became intertwined in each other’s lives, watching each other’s children grow up, talking every day and becoming best friends.
“I would say we are as close as two brothers,” said Trujillo. ”He has always helped me with everything and I did the same thing for him. Lee will always be there for me if I ever need it. Even today, if I call and said, ‘Lee I want you to come over and this and that,’ he will be right over. He doesn’t hesitate. And he knows I will do the same thing for him.”
Trujillo continued, “Inside you love this guy for what he is and you want to keep that love forever.”
Advancing years have inevitably slowed each man down. But it seems their fondness and love for each other has only become stronger- feelings that grew out of multiple coincidences and chance encounters.
“There was just some kind of a feeling. You had to be part of each other. I don’t know for me, thinking that Benny’s not around, that would kill me right about now. I think I am closer with Benny than I was with my own brother,” said Tulper.