When Carl Warner developed a crush on his high school friend, Abby Deutsch, he planned to ask her on a date— but just as he began saving money as a telegram messenger at Western Union, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and America entered World War II.
Warner enlisted in the Marines a few days after the attack, leaving their home in Miami Beach behind. It would be another 76 years before the two friends would reunite in-person, and, Warner, now 92, had some unfinished business to take care of when he laid eyes on his old crush on August 17.
“There was a fabulous, fabulous kiss,” Deutsch, 91, tells PEOPLE. “If this is the way you kissed somebody after 76 years, then I’m going away and coming back in another 76!”
The friends came into contact again over the phone about 10 years ago, but their reunion in Sherman Oaks, California, where Warner lives today, was the first time they had seen each other since the start of the war. While their phone calls over the years reinvigorated their friendship, plans to visit were difficult bring into fruition. Thanks to a partnership between Wish of a Lifetime, a foundation that helps seniors fulfill their goals, and Brookdale Senior Living, the residential home where Deutsch lives in Florida, the two were finally able to make their reunion happen.
“My favorite part was the anticipation and finally getting together with him,” Deutsch says.
When Deutsch arrived, the two spent hours talking and taking in each other’s presence, as they had wanted to do for so long.
“We hugged and we kissed, as I knew we would,” Warner tells PEOPLE. “We renewed our friendship and talked to each other about what our life was like during those many years when we were apart.”
During the time they were separated, Deutsch made it a point to remain active and find joy in each day. She worked at the University of Miami as a secretary to the school’s vice president and raised children with her husband of 60 years before he passed away in 2012.
Warner spent years working as a foreign correspondent for UPI after his days in the military, where he covered dangerous stories which led to him being jailed in Cuba and shot in Venezuela. Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS Evening News anchorman, twice reported that Warner died on assignment. Though he lived a life of exhilaration, Warner experienced heartbreak along the way. He has been widowed twice — his second wife of 22 years succumbed to chronic lung disease in 2015.
While much time had passed, the two friends instantly remembered each other when they were reconnected over the phone by a mutual friend about a decade ago. Though Deutsch says they were only friends in high school, Warner says that Cupid came for him at the worst possible time.
“I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have any money, how are you going to take a girl out?” he says. “I desperately wanted to date her and I just took too long to ask, because right after I turned 17, I was off to the Marines.”
Warner remembers Deutsch (whose maiden name is Silverstein), as a kind person with a great personality. She is still that sweet girl he knew so long ago, he says.
Before Deutsch departed to her home in Florida, the two friends took a tour of the Warner Bros. Studio Facilities in Burbank and had dinner at Warner’s home (and he promised he would sneak in some more kisses before she left). Deutsch says their reunion was beyond her dreams, and she is delighted they were able to make it all happen.
“We are fortunate we have lived so long and in good health,” Deutsch says. “It’s just wonderful—I just have goosebumps all over!”
Warner says their visit brought him back to a time when things were simpler. He admits he’s having a hard time with old age, and he misses his career and the exciting things he was able to do. But, his few days with Deutsch made that disappear, if only for a moment.
“I’ve had a wonderful life, and whatever happens from now on, it’s okay, though I’m struggling,” Warner says. “But meeting Abby again was a delightful, wonderful and terrific interlude.”
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