Twin boys' World War II dream comes true

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- It all began in Raleigh, North Carolina with a flurry of plastic bombshells. A few years ago, 10-year-old twins -- Carter and Jack Hanson-- got really into the game Battleship. That got them interested in naval warfare in general, which eventually led to a family vacation to see the Yorktown - a retired aircraft carrier in Charleston, South Carolina.

"My mind was just blown," said Carter.

The kids say the Yorktown changed their lives.

"I just realized how amazing history can be," added Carter.

And it was about to get even better. On that same trip the boys learned about a World War II veteran named Robert Harding who actually served on the Yorktown. They got his email address, started corresponding daily, and became really enamored -- to the point where they now desperately want to meet him.

"We want to know what his voice actually sounds like," said Carter with tears in his eyes. "We want to touch him. We want to know him a lot more."

That's how fond they have become of a veteran they have never met. The boys keep his picture by their beds and if you ever go to the Yorktown with them, as we did, they'll chew your ear off about Mr. Harding and what he did onboard as a plane handler.

The folks who run the Yorktown say a lot of kids love the ship, but no kid has ever fallen for a sailor who served on the vessel like these two boys have fallen for Mr. Harding. Which is why, for this trip, the Yorktown made special arrangements for a surprise visitor: Mr. Harding.

The boys ran to embrace him; hugging an old salt never felt so sweet.

hartman-headlinesframe6281.jpg
Carter and Jack Hanson hug WWII veteran Robert Harding as they meet for the first time CBS News

It was hard to tell who enjoyed it more, or who needed it more. Over the years Mr. Harding says he'd kept most of his war stories to himself.

"I guess I needed somebody to talk to about it," said Mr. Harding. "It's surprising the way it worked out."

hartman-headlinesframe8873.jpg
WWII Robert Harding stands for a photo with Carter and Jack by his side CBS News

The kids, all three of them, spent the rest of the day exploring the ship and making memories. They now plan to stay in touch for as long as fate allows. Whoever said history is irrelevant obviously never fell in love with it.

"We don't know about how we've changed his life, but we know that he obviously changed ours," said Carter.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.