The story behind viral photo of a mall Santa kneeling before 93-year-old veteran still melts hearts

Aby Rivas
Dec 22, 2018
07:30 P.M.
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A woman got to capture the magic of Christmas in one picture that has melted hearts all over the world: Santa, kneeling down in front of a World War II veteran, to thank him for his service.


Gina Wilbur took a seat to rest from her Christmas shopping at Concord Mall when she witnessed an exceptional moment between the mall’s Santa and a 93-year-old army veteran.

Wilbur explained that when she saw Santa coming closer, she thought he was on “break,” but what happened next surprised her. As she was getting ready to snap a picture of Santa to show it to her stepson, he approached a gentleman that was sitting next to her.


“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 told PEOPLE. “As Santa reached for his hand, the gentleman began to stand and then Santa knelt down on one knee to show his appreciation.”

The veteran, Bob Smiley, stayed put as Santa began to recount stories of other people he knew who served for the country. “He spoke in a soft voice, thanking him for his service and spoke of others he knew who had served,” Wilbur said. “Then he stood up and went back to his chair to greet the children.”

Gina shared the photo on her Facebook to spread a bit of love and positivity for the holidays, but she didn’t expect to gather all the attention after the pic went viral with over 13k reactions.


After Smiley’s daughter reached out to Gina on Facebook, the man and Santa reunited once again at the mall. This time, with Fox news on tow to capture the family’s reactions as they discussed how important it is to appreciate veterans like Smiley.

The Santa in the picture, which preferred to keep his identity a secret to keep the magic, 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, who has ten children and 26 grandchildren, is glad when people show they are thankful for veterans, but also stated that back in the day, enlisting was not something out of the ordinary and every boy in his class served with him.

Wilbur, on the other hand, hopes the picture can be an example of kindness, not only through the holidays but the entire year.


“In a world full of so much negativity, I truly think we have to seek the positive,” she said. “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.”



Following with the Christmas celebrations, a Secret Santa from Kansas City surprised homeless veterans from the Veterans Community Project's tiny home village with $100 each.

Jackson County Executive Frank White and Sheriff Daryl Forte were the chosen Santa's elves that handed out the $100 bill to several veterans that could use some help right in time for the holidays. And some veterans even stated they will pay it forward and donate the money to the Veterans Community Project so they can help more people.

The Secret Santa, which is allegedly a millionaire that prefers to remain anonymous, has visited 60 cities across the country and gifted around $2 million in eleven years.

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