The mall Santa Claus was paying his respects to Bob Smiley, 93, a veteran who had served under General George S. Patton during the war.
A picture of Santa sharing a heartwarming moment with a WWII veteran is spreading cheer across the country. Gina Wilbur was at Concord Mall in Delaware on December 1 last year when she saw a mall Santa taking a tour through the shopping center. Since she has always been a fan of Christmas, Wilbur took out the phone to snap a picture of Saint Nick, and that’s when she saw a heartwarming moment at the mall.
In an interview with PEOPLE, Wilbur said, "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. As Santa reached for his hand, the gentleman began to stand and then Santa knelt down on one knee to show his appreciation. He spoke in a soft voice, thanking him for his service and spoke of others he knew who had served. Then he stood up and went back to his chair to greet the children.”
The picture was posted by Wilbur on her Facebook page in the hopes that someone would be able to recognize the man Santa had thanked, and she received a lot more attention than she expected. Wilbur says, "Others were commenting on heartwarming stories about Santa and how he impacted them; always greeting and respecting veterans, signing to deaf children and holding the sleeping babies. 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 to him on Facebook, Wilbur realized that the veteran in the picture is none other than 93-year-old Bob Smiley who served under General George S. Patton and later had 10 children, who, in turn, had 26 grandchildren! After the picture went viral once, Wilbur, Smiley, and Santa met at the mall once again, and FOX29 was also there for the reunion.
In a conversation with the news station, Santa said, "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."
Smiley has been married for 66 years before his wife passed away three years ago, and he believes in the fact that whatever he has accomplished was nothing different than the 16 million other Americans who were a part of WWII.
Smiley said, "In my generation it was duty. We all went, we all served. Every boy in my high school graduating class all served. 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. 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.”