It was the side view of the man that did it.
Paul Layton looked up from his lunch at the Grizzly Peak Retirement Community a week before Christmas and noticed the visitor with the easy smile on his way to the salad bar.
“I got a side profile of this guy and just about fell over,” Layton said Wednesday.
Suddenly he was back at the Naval Training Center in San Diego.
Layton, who turns 82 on Thursday, looked at wife Peggy and others at his table and said with certainty: “I know that guy. I was in boot camp with him. I can’t remember his name, but I know he was from Libby.”
How after nearly 63 years he recognized Warren Midyett he still can’t say.
“You tell me,” said Layton. “I don’t have a clue.”
He was going to let the matter lie, at least until lunch was over, but Layton couldn’t resist approaching the man and his wife at a corner table.
“I looked up and said, I wonder what this guy wants,” Midyett recounted.
“Were you in the Navy?” Layton asked him.
“Well, yeah, a long time ago.”
“January of 1952, Company 092?”
“How’d you know that?” Midyett asked.
When he reported to Butte to enter the Navy in 1952, Layton stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 212 pounds. He’d lived in Missoula since he was 5 years old.
Midyett had grown up in Libby, back when his high school’s mascot was a Terrier, not a Logger. He was 5-8 1/2 and weighed 138 when he was measured for the Navy.
But the two shared kindred spirits then and are genial gentlemen now, ready to laugh and eager to share war stories.
Layton said when he left Warren and Janice Midyett after the brief exchange at lunch last month, Midyett seemed to still be trying to place him. But soon he appeared at Layton’s table.
“Now I remember you,” Midyett told him. “You helped me tie my sea bag.”
There are websites these days devoted to how to pack a Navy seabag – the military clothing roll, the T-shirt fold and so on. You were in trouble in boot camp if you didn’t do it correctly. Layton, bunking near his fellow Montanan in boot camp, noticed Midyett was struggling and gave him a hand.
The two hit it off during the 11-week camp, sharing the miseries of freezing winter rain; of the “asphalt-covered parade grounds known as the “Grinder”; of overbearing training officers; and of the prospect of joining the increasingly nasty war in Korea when they were finished.
Then their paths diverged.
Layton, trained as a pipefitter, departed on a landing craft repair ship that spent six months at a time in Korea and six back in San Diego. He served three such tours.
Midyett became a cook and left on the first of two nine-month stints on the USS Toledo, a heavy cruiser that saw heavy duty in Korea. Later he sailed on a destroyer bound for Enewetak Atoll in the South Pacific, where he witnessed the testing of seven hydrogen bombs.
Their hitches ended in 1956. Each went home and went on with his life, keeping in touch with other Navy friends but not with each other.
“I never saw him again until this came up,” Midyett said.
The two men have become reacquainted over coffee the past few weeks. They compare boot camp memories and share war experiences. They talk about their lives and families after the service.
Eventually, they came to the realization they had been living parallel lives in Missoula for more than 50 years.
“Neither one of us understands why we never crossed paths,” said Layton.
For four or five years in the 1960s, their children attended school together. Gary, the Laytons’ youngest of two sons, was a year ahead of Shirley, Midyett’s oldest of three daughters, at Bonner School, where Paul Layton served on the school board.
“The name never clicked up here,” he said, slapping his head.
The Laytons lived in Piltzville, east of Bonner, for 60 years in a home they sold just last year when they moved into Grizzly Peak. Paul finished a plumbing apprenticeship when he got out of the service and went to work for Olympia Plumbing before launching a 27-year career with the Montana Power Co.
“I had two or three of those Montana Power guys on my softball team and we still didn’t connect,” marveled Midyett.
After completing printers school at Whitworth College in Spokane, Midyett went to work in the composing room for the Missoulian and Missoula-Sentinel in 1963. He and his first wife, June, settled in a home near Marshall Grade, on the west end of the Bonner School district.
June Midyett was killed in a tragic car accident on Brickyard Hill within sight of their home in December 1965. Warren, with three young daughters and working nights at the paper, was too busy after that to spend much time at school.
“They would call me every once in awhile and tell me it was my turn to bring cookies. So I’d make cookies and run them up there,” he said.
He met Janice, who also worked at the Missoulian at the time. They were married in 1968 and moved the family into Missoula, first to Orchard Homes and for the last 37 years in the Wapikiya area of south Missoula.
Midyett became foreman of the composing room in his 15 years at the newspaper. He worked another seven at Artcraft Printers of Missoula and retired in 1997 after a dozen years as regional representative of the Montana Public Employees Association.
He turned 81 in December, when he and Janice were invited to lunch at Grizzly Peak.
“The only reason I was out here is they want us to move here,” Warren said. “They called and asked if we’d like to come out to lunch and look over the facilities.
“Otherwise I wouldn’t have been out here. And we still wouldn’t have met.”
Now, he added, "we're kind of like where we'd left off."