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

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.

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Mrs Claus takes a photo of her husband Santa Bill Armstrong (R), with Santa Fred Osther as they head for class at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas and Mrs. Clauses enjoy lunch at Pizza Sam's on Main Street during a break from class at Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Randy Schneider of Muskegon, Michigan learns wood toy making in the Gerace shop in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Sam Hopeck of Commerce Township, Michigan rides the Polar Express train during a field trip from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Rudolph walks out of Pizza Sam's with fellow Santas on Main Street during a lunch break from class at Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas wave as they leave for lunch between classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Thomas Valent, dean of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School sits in the Santa House in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas laugh as they learn about Santa Spirit during class at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
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Santa Jerry Julian of Colorado Springs, Colorado hides in the grass following a ride on the Polar Express during a field trip from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
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Santa Fred Osther from Oslo, Norway waits for the afternoon session of classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
Santa Leon McBryde (L) of Buchanan, Virginia and Santa Stephen Gillham of Chapel Hill, North Carolina pose at the end of classes from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Paul Fanning of Tyler, Texas rides past Christmas decorations during a break in schedule at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
Santas and Mrs Claus greet a child at the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, Michigan, U.S. October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
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“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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