2 WWII veterans who are lifelong friends celebrate 96th and 97th birthdays together in Whittier

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Two World War II veterans and lifelong friends celebrated their 96th and 97th birthdays together in Whittier on Sunday.

U.S. Army Veteran Randel “Randy” Zepeda Fernandez is turning 96 this week. His best friend of nearly 90 years, U.S. Coast Guard veteran Salvador “Sal” B. Guzman, just turned 97.

Fernandez’s son, Steve Fernandez, decided a major event was in order to mark the momentous occasion.

So he organized a massive celebration that drew a parade of community members, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and even mariachi musicians.

“This is amazing. I didn’t expect it to be this big,” Steve Fernandez said.

Both veterans said they were surprised by the outpouring of gratitude.

“I knew nothing about this,” Guzman said.

The men’s friendship dates back to childhood.

“We’ve known each other since the second grade,” Randy Fernandez said. The men attended elementary school and junior high together, before they both attended Garfield High School, they said.

Randy Fernandez helped liberate concentration camps and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which helped organize the event. Guzman patrolled the Northern California coastline on horseback from 1943 to 1944.

“Both veterans reunited in the 1950s and bought their first homes on the same street in Montebello, raising their families together,” the sheriff’s department said in a written statement.

“I love both of you, and I’m very proud to be your son, dad,” Steve Fernandez said. “Sal, you’ve always watched over me as well. I just had to do this for you to make sure that the country recognizes your service, and the fact that you guys have been friends for almost 90 years now. It’s something that I’m proud to be a part of today.”

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