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Vets reunite 60 years later after chance meeting in Cumming
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Arnold Wooden - photo by Micah Green

CUMMING — As Forsyth County’s population continues to grow, more residents are making new friends, as well as occasionally reconnecting with old ones.

Earlier this month, two such men learned their paths had crossed before — six decades ago.

They reconnected while attending the city of Cumming’s annual Veterans Day observance.

“I went [there], and I saw this gentleman in his wheelchair, he was saluting people, they were saluting him, and I said, ‘I want to do that,’” said Arnold Wooden, a Navy veteran.

“I walked up and saluted him, and he asked ‘Where’d you serve?’ I said, ‘In the mine force.’ He said, ‘So was I.’ He said, ‘I was on the USS Sustain AM-119.’ I said, “So was I.”

Wooden and fellow veteran Bill Whatley served together aboard the mine sweeping ship from 1954 to ’55, when it was decommissioned. They then went to different ships and career paths before ending up in Cumming.

“He went that way, and I went [the other] way… 60 years ago, we were on the same ship and now we’re in the same town,” Wooden said.

Whatley, who served 28 years in the Navy and attained the rank of full commander, said he was surprised to see Wooden.

“It was a shock that we ran into each other,” Whatley said.

After retiring from the Navy, he got a call from friends in the grocery business who wanted him to help build a national sales force.

“I went to work with them for 30 years.” said Whatley, who during that time moved to Forsyth.

“I bought the property up here in 1977-78 over in Habersham-Buford Dam road area, and it was one of the first developments in this area.”

Wooden went on to serve on three more ships, traveling to Cuba, the Azores and the Mediterranean before retiring from the Navy in 1956. He then went on to work for BellSouth, using skills he picked up as radarman.

“I went to the employment office and told them what I did [in the Navy],” Wooden said. “I just walked around the corner and went in and they hired me … I spent 35 years with them, and retired in ’91.”

During his time with the company, Wooden would live in Miami, Atlanta and twice in Tennessee.

“We said we’re going to move back to Georgia, and my son said, ‘Why don’t you move to Cumming?’ … Now I wouldn’t live anywhere else... best place I ever lived.”