Like most American malls this time of year, the Concord Mall in Wilmington, Delaware is decked out for the holidays.
While frantic adults scurry here and there to purchase gifts, a flurry of excited children wait in line, eager to meet Santa Claus and share their very important Christmas wishes.
On Dec. 1, as Santa took a break from the lines of children, his eyes spotted someone that he simply had to speak with.
Santa approached the white-haired gentleman, who started to stand up. It was 93-year-old Bob Smiley, a World War II veteran, and Santa wanted to pay his deepest respects.
Santa quickly clasped Smiley’s hands and took a knee, a beautiful moment cemented in time thanks to a photo taken by Gina Wilbur, who happened to witness the scene.
“I hear Santa telling the gentleman, in a soft voice, of others he knew who served,” Wilbur wrote on Facebook.
“He shakes his hand with genuine gratefulness thanking him for his service and returns to the children.”
Wilbur said it was the best moment of her day.
As Wilbur’s photo began to circulate on social media, it caught the attention of some of Smiley’s family members. They loved the picture-perfect moment, thanking Wilbur for sharing all about it.
On Dec. 6, Santa, Smiley, and some of Smiley’s children were reunited, posing together around a Christmas tree.
The group appeared on “Good Day Philadelphia” to talk about the moment.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to men like this that have made such a life-changing decision to give of themselves, be willing to lay down their life even, for other people,” Santa told FOX29 Philadelphia.
Smiley said he doesn’t view his time in the military as a sacrifice, rather, going to war was simply what the men of his generation did.
“We all went, we all served,” Smiley said.
“Every boy in my high school graduating class all served. Out of 35 boys, five were killed and they were my friends for 13 years of my life.”
After all these years, Smiley is still appreciative of those who do stop him to acknowledge his wartime duty.
“I try to show my appreciation when they do thank me,” he said. “I thank them for thinking about us.”
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