Mall Santa Claus Kneels to Honor 93-Year-Old WWII Vet and Thank Him for His Service
A picture of Santa sharing a tender moment with an elderly military veteran is spreading holiday cheer around the country!
Gina Wilbur was at Concord Mall in Delaware on December 1 when she saw Santa taking a stroll through the shopping center. Being a big fan of Christmas, Wilbur pulled out her phone to snap a picture of Saint Nick, and that’s when she saw something heartwarming take place in the halls of the mall.
“Just as I was ready to take the picture, Santa stopped short to shake the hand of a gentleman, a WWII Veteran, sitting on a wall next to me,” Wilbur says in an email to PEOPLE. “As Santa reached for his hand, the gentleman began to stand and then Santa knelt down on one knee to show his appreciation.”
While speaking with the elderly man who wore a “World War II Veteran” hat, Santa shared his own stories of friends who had enlisted in the military.
“He spoke in a soft voice, thanking him for his service and spoke of others he knew who had served,” Wilbur recalls. “Then he stood up and went back to his chair to greet the children.”
Wilbur posted the picture to her Facebook page later that day, in the hopes that someone would be able to recognize the man Santa had thanked — and she got a lot more attention about the touching photo than she expected.
“Others were commenting of heartwarming stories about Santa and how he impacted them; always greeting and respecting veterans, signing to deaf children and holding the sleeping babies,” Wilbur says. “I even received a Facebook message from Mrs. Claus boasting about her kind, endearing husband we all call Santa. If you are looking for the real Santa, I know him!”
After his daughter reached out over Facebook, Wilbur found out the veteran in the picture was 93-year-old Bob Smiley who served under General George S. Patton and later had 10 children, who, in turn, gave him 26 grandchildren!
As the picture went viral, Wilbur, Smiley and Santa met at the mall once again — and FOX 29 was on hand for the reunion.
“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 told the news station.
Smiley — who was married for 66 years before his wife passed away three years ago — believes what he accomplished was nothing different than what the 16 million other Americans who served during the Second World War did.
“In my generation it was duty,” Smiley told FOX 29. “We all went, we all served. Every boy in my high school graduating class all served.”
Wilbur hopes the picture will help people see the good in each other this holiday season.
“This picture is no longer just and image but a photograph that came to life. It goes so much deeper because of those two men,” she says.
“They have led lives that will leave legacies and we are all getting a glimpse of it now. In a world full of so much negativity, I truly think we have to seek the positive. There are genuinely good people all around us, doing great things. It’s all about perspective. We just need to choose to see it and share it.”