HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WETM)-It’s Veterans Day on 11-11. It’s also the Marine Corps Birthday on November 10, which is a day I mark by wishing fellow Marines a “Happy Birthday”. Sometimes birthday gifts come in unexpected places at unanticipated times.

I shouldn’t even have been where I was last night. I made a “spur of the moment” stop at a Horseheads store to pick up something I didn’t really need, but that I wanted. Making a small course correction allowed me to meet two exceptional people, who were doing an exceptional thing.

I was wearing a windbreaker that has my USMC rank insignia and “proudly served” embroidered below it. I intended to get into and out of the store as quickly as possible, and I parked near the exit I knew was closest to my desired items.

I went straight to the appropriate aisle, loaded up with three boxes of the healthy snack item I wanted, and headed toward a, hopefully, uncrowded checkout line.

That’s when a small, blond haired, girl and her father approached me. Since I’ve been in the news business for several years, my first reaction was one of skepticism. I preach that to our news staff members, to be skeptical of everything. The little girl said, “excuse me sir, Happy Veteran’s Day”, and handed a homemade greeting card to me.

On the front she had written the words, “Happy Veteran’s Day”, and “thank you”. She had placed three, glittering, stars and a hand drawn American flag and award ribbon that said, “for those who serve”. While my instincts were forcing me to wonder what the ulterior motive of all of this was, I started to soften when I looked at the beaming face of her father. This was a dad who was obviously proud of his child’s efforts and was along to both protect her and to soak in the appreciation for her efforts.

I could feel a huge smile coming to my face, and I thanked the girl more than once. After all, she had spent her time to make a gift for someone she didn’t know and whom she had never met. All she needed to know was that I was a veteran of the US Armed Services. To her, that meant she wanted me to have a gift. I looked at the card again, and my heart was melting.

Then she said, quietly, “open it up”. I did. She had pasted five hearts on the left side of the opened card, and had hand printed the message “Hello, thank you for your service! I hope you have a great Veterans Day!” on the right side. She had also taped a small pocket below that message. On it was a question mark along with four gold stars. I was now acknowledging her gift with “Wow, this is great!” or some other blather. I am not normally at a loss for words. At this moment, I was overwhelmed by a child’s selfless gift to me.

The card, by itself, would be something I would post to my personal Facebook page, share with my wife, and text to many friends. Then I noticed there was something in the pocket she had so carefully attached with tape. I pulled it out but said nothing. She said, “it’s a gift card”.  I thanked her again. Her father’s smile could have lit up the store on its own. I am rarely overwhelmed, but I was frozen to a spot and unable to say much other than “thank you so much” and “what an amazing gift”.

They turned to walk away and into the store, in search of more veterans. I noticed she had a few other handmade cards with her that were about to go into the hands of unsuspecting veterans. As she started to walk away, she turned and said, “It’s for $40”.

I cried. Here was a small girl, whose age I won’t guess because if I got it wrong, I’d insult her. She was giving selflessly of her own money and time to try to do something nice for veterans she’d never met.

I watched them walk away, and I realized the only thing I could say was, “this is just so incredibly nice of you”.

I felt as if I stood, frozen in time, for several minutes but it was likely only seconds.

I made sure the cashier and all of those behind me saw the card. I showed it to my wife and she, also, cried. Many of my Facebook friends reacted the same way.

I think there are two morals to this story. First, a gift, when selflessly given, is truly a gift worth giving and receiving. Second, and I know I speak for the vast majority of American veterans when I say we expect nothing in return for our service. We didn’t go into it because we expected free meals or discounts. It was a higher calling. But we appreciate it when people thank us for our service. My response? “America is worth it”.

So, to the little girl and her father who I don’t know and may never again meet, “thank you for what you did”. Your heartfelt and sincere gift will be in my memories, and in my heart, for a long, long time.

Happy USMC Birthday to all my fellow Jarheads. And Happy Veteran’s Day to all military veterans.