Santa Claus gets a lot of attention this time of year. He may not be the true reason for the season, but there’s no denying that the jolly man in the red suit brings quite a bit of Christmas cheer to the holidays.
At the Concord Mall in Delaware, however, it wasn’t Santa who was the center of attention last week. It was somebody with an even more impressive background: a World War II veteran.
While shopping at that mall, Gina Wilbur spotted something amazing. The local Santa took a moment to step away from the clamoring families and children to honor 93-year-old veteran Bob Smiley.
“(T)ook a second to sit on a bench near Santa’s workshop… then Santa steps away from his Chair… he walks over to a veteran sitting on the wall… as Santa approaches, the veteran stands and Santa takes a knee,” Wilbur wrote in a Facebook post that has been shared thousands of times.
“I hear Santa telling the gentleman, in a soft voice, of others he knew who served. He shakes his hand with genuine gratefulness thanking him for his service and returns to the children. Best moment of my day,” the local resident continued.
Wilbur went about her day and didn’t think much about the post, but it soon caught the attention of the community and the national media.
The story gets even better. After the post went viral, the family of the elderly veteran contacted the woman who snapped the photo and arranged a meeting between her, Smiley, and Santa himself.
As a WTXF-FOX 29 camera rolled, the heartwarming photo took on even more significance.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to men like this, that have made such a life-changing decision to give up themselves, be willing to lay down their life even, for other people,” Santa said to WTFX.
Smiley, who served as part of the “greatest generation” and now has dozens of grandchildren, downplayed his own actions in World War II but instead drew attention to the sacrifices of others.
“We all went, we all served,” he 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.”
But although he didn’t seek attention from either Santa or the local news, Smiley humbly accepted the words of thanks that came his way.
“I try to show my appreciation when they do thank me,” he said. “I thank them for thinking about us.”
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