HUNTERSVILLE – Dave Nichols was 20 years old when he first met Thad Givens.

Givens, also 20 at the time, shared service with Nichols in Company F, 51st Infantry Ranger Airborne in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

The two served alongside one another for nearly eight months, headquartered in Bien Hoa, about 20 miles east of Ho Chi Minh City, then known as Saigon – right in the thick of the war.

Their company was split up three months before their tours ended. Nichols figured he’d never see Givens again. After the war, he lived in North Haven, Conn., before retiring and moving to Huntersville six years ago.

Givens spent 22 years in the U.S. Army before becoming a police chief and continuing a lifetime of service. He lived in Orange, N.J., but opted to move to Huntersville 10 years ago.

When Givens stopped at Auto Bell Car Wash off Gilead Road on Dec. 20, he was just ready to get his truck washed and get on the road. He proudly wore his bomber jacket with his Company F scroll emblazoned on the back.

Nichols was running pre-Christmas errands when he figured it was time to head to the car wash. He saw a man in a bomber jacket nearby.

“I didn’t think much of it,” Nichols said. “I saw a scroll that looked like mine, so I walked up to the guy and said, ‘Were you with F Company?’ and the guy said, ‘Yeah, I was.’”

Nichols replied, “Two-three,” the name of the company’s unit in which he served. Givens was taken aback.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Givens said. “It was a unique experience.”

The two hadn’t seen one another in 45 years. Nichols is now 66. Givens turns 66 in May. It took him a second, but Givens knew who was speaking to him.

“We all look a little bit different now,” Givens said. “We tried to put together 40-something years of news into a 30- or 45-minute conversation. Both of us thought, ‘Wait until I tell the other veterans this!”

Nichols said he and Givens made plans to meet up after the holidays. Running into someone with whom he served nearly 50 years ago was an incredible feeling of surprise for him.

“When you’re in combat, you think about the guys you served with and what you went through together,” Nichols said. “In your wildest dreams, how could you ever expect that to happen? You just can’t explain it. The last time I had seen Thad was 45 years ago, 12,000 miles away. I can’t believe we both wound up moving to the same town and then running into one another.”

Givens echoed Nichols’ sentiment.

“We were part of a group of young men who came together from all walks of life with one mission in mind,” he said. “I look forward to catching up with him soon.”

Christmas hadn’t yet arrived when Nichols ran into Givens, but it made for a great pre-Christmas present.

“He told me, ‘You made my Christmas,’” Nichols said. “I said, ‘You made mine, too.’ It’s pretty crazy how this all worked out.”