Santa takes a knee for 93-year-old veteran: 'We owe a debt of gratitude to men like this'

A woman captured Santa Claus giving the gift of gratitude when he encountered a veteran at a mall in Delaware. (Credit: Facebook/Gina Wilbur)

A woman captured a photo of Santa Claus giving the gift of gratitude when he encountered a veteran at a mall in Delaware.

When Gina Wilbur spotted Santa at the Concord Mall in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, she wanted to snap a picture of the man with the bag himself. But the sweet moment she unintentionally caught on camera was one she had to share.

“I was sitting on a bench and I wanted to just take a picture of Santa walking by,” Wilbur told Philadelphia news station WTXF-TV. “And he stopped short.” Santa stopped because he saw a veteran. “And [he] knelt down and thanked him for his service,” she explained. “I didn’t realize it was going to be that deep of a moment, and the affect of this picture, but it has gone so much further than just the picture.”

Wilbur shared the photo on social media a few days ago, and in her caption, she explained that she saw Santa leave his “workshop” to approach the vet, and overheard Santa say that his own father was in the war. Her post has since warmed the hearts of many people, including the veteran’s family, who saw Wilbur’s Facebook post and reached out.

The World War II veteran, Bob Smiley, and Santa later reunited on WTXF’s broadcast, and Smiley’s family and Wilbur tagged along.

“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 explained to WTXF about why he wanted to take a knee for Smiley.

“In my generation, it was duty,” Smiley said of his sacrifice. “We all went, we all served. Every boy in my high school graduating class all served,” Smiley said. “Out of 35 boys, five were killed, and they were my friends for 13 years of my life.”

According to WTXF, the 93-year-old, who had 10 children, served under Gen. George Patton.

Smiley says he’s appreciative of people thanking him for his service.

“I really appreciate it, and I try to show my appreciation when they do thank me,” he said. “I thank them for thinking about us.”

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