It was not just puppy love

Five years ago, Gary Thayer received a Facebook request that changed his life forever.

Thayer had a baby crush on his babysitter, Maureen, when he was 8 years old and she was 13. The crush still was there when he was 17 and he asked her out on a date.

She said no, and that was the last time there would be contact between the two for 26 years.

“I’ve wanted to marry her my entire life,’’ said Thayer, 48. “I really didn’t think it was puppy love.’’

Ten years ago, Thayer saw another dream become a reality when he enlisted in the Army at the age of 38. He gave up his job as a painting contractor to serve the country.

Thayer almost joined the Army, just like his father, at the age of 17. But his plan of earning his GED and enlisting did not come to fruition when he fell a couple of points shy on the test for what the Army required at the time.

At 34, he almost enlisted when the age limit was raised to 42 after 9/11.

“I chickened out,’’ Thayer said.

Four years later, he went from being a chicken to being called Pops.

“In boot camp, I was older than the drill sergeant,’’ Thayer said. “Everyone called me Pops. They all loved me, and it was quite an experience.’’

That experience might have saved Thayer’s life.

“I had smoked for 20 years and I had to get my wind back,’’ Thayer said. “I became an AIT Generator mechanic when they sent me to Fort Hood. That’s when they found out that I had diabetes. I probably would never have known if it weren’t for the Army. I was so scared.’’

Thayer no longer drinks Pepsi and he has almost eliminated milk and coffee ice cream from his diet.

“Maureen has been so great for me,’’ Thayer said. “We ride mountain bikes together, and she always prepares two sets of meals for us.’’

After his stint in the Army, Thayer looks forward to a long life.

“I think 48 is the new 28,’’ he said. “After the Army, I can will myself to do anything that I could do at 28.’’