WWII Vet Who Became Best Friends With His Toddler Neighbor Dies at 91

The heartwarming story of the unlikely pair quickly went viral.

ByABC News
October 31, 2016, 3:02 PM
Emmett, left and Erling pose for a picture in their matching tractors.
Emmett, left and Erling pose for a picture in their matching tractors.
Courtesy Anika Rychner

— -- The World War II veteran who developed a close friendship with his toddler neighbor, and in the process warmed the hearts of many on the internet, has passed away at the age of 91, his family told ABC News today.

Erling Kindem rose to viral fame two years ago, after he became best friends with a then 3-year-old neighbor, Emmett Rychner, in Farmington, Minnesota.

Heartwarming stories of the pair racing tractors or riding bicycles together stole the hearts of many Americans.

When Kindem moved to a nursing home and Emmett's family moved to a neighboring town in 2014, Kindem told ABC News how having to say goodbye to his best friend brought him to tears. The unlikely pair still met up for special occasions, however, such as Kindem's 90th birthday party, according to Kindem's family.

PHOTO: Erling and Emmett biking together near the house.
Erling and Emmett biking together near the house.

Kindem died of heart failure on Saturday afternoon after five months in hospice care, his son, Charlie Kindem, 67, told ABC News.

Emmett, now almost 6 years old, did get a chance to visit his dear friend and say goodbye, according to Charlie Kindem.

Emmett came to the nursing home where Erling lived two days before he died, Charlie Kindem said, adding that "Emmett read the Lord's Prayer to him."

Erling Kindem held onto many fond memories with Emmett, according to Charlie Kindem.

"Emmett was the only kid on the block. There wasn't any other kids, so he would come over and knock on Dad's door," Charlie Kindem told ABC News. "And he would say, 'Can Erling come out and play?'"

"Dad had a John Deere for mowing, and Emmett had a little electric John Deere, and so my dad would say, 'Do you want to race?'" Kindem added.

Charlie Kindem said those who knew his father, who served his country in 29 combat missions, would always remember him for his kindness.

"He just made friends with everybody. He had all kinds of friends," Kindem said.