‘Gold star kid’ to get local foundation’s Freedom Award for Veterans Day

Myles Eckert
Myles Eckert

Ten-year-old Myles Eckert is an unlikely celebrity.

Admittedly shy, fame followed him after he found a $20 bill on Feb. 7, 2013, in the snowy parking lot of a suburban Toledo, Ohio, Cracker Barrel restaurant. He’d thought about giving it to the waitress as a tip or buying a video game. But when then Air National Guard Lt. Col. Frank Dailey walked into the restaurant in uniform with his family, he knew what he had to do.

Myles’ father, Andy, an Army Reservist, was killed on Mother’s Day in 2005 – when he was 5 weeks old.

So Myles gave the money to Dailey to help pay for his meal with a hand-written note that explained his father was a soldier and his family believed in “paying it forward.” He ended the note by thanking Dailey for his service and signing it: “a gold star kid.” The story of the boy’s kindness traveled worldwide. He’s visited the White House and former President George W. Bush at his Texas library. He’s appeared on Dr. Phil and Ellen and received more awards than he can remember.

Monday, two days before Veterans Day 2015, he’ll collect his latest award in Charlotte. The Carolinas Freedom Foundation, for two decades the organizer of the city’s Veteran’s Day parade, is giving Myles its Freedom Award at the annual American Airlines Freedom Breakfast.

Mike Stubbs, commander of the local chapter of The Military Order of the Purple Heart who received the Silver Star medal in Vietnam, will accept the foundation’s Special Achievement Award for the chapter.

At the breakfast, Vietnam War era veterans will be recognized as part of the nation’s observance of that war’s 50th anniversary.

Gold Star Children

That is a particularly special tribute to foundation founder Quincy Collins, a fighter pilot who spent 7 1/2 years as a POW in Vietnam. Collins started the group 21 years ago after he sat in a meeting of mostly World War II and Korean War veterans who were preparing for the upcoming Veterans Day parade.

It galled him that those men had to plan their own parade. So Collins and others, including Obie Oakley of Charlotte, came up with the foundation, a fund-raising breakfast and plans for a parade. The yearly breakfast usually draws hundreds. Their focus Monday will be on the Vietnam era veterans, the Purple Heart order and Myles Eckert.

Myles knows that normal little boys don’t get invited to the White House or meet President Bush in Texas. He’s internet famous and I don’t want that to change who he is.

Tiffany Eckert on her son Myles

The boy represents thousands of Gold Star Children, “war orphans” left without a parent because of America’s wars. World War II left more than 180,000 American war orphans; the Vietnam War created 20,000. The defense department estimates about 5,000 American children lost a parent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Myles’ father was on his second deployment when he came home to Waterville, Ohio, in March 2005 to be with wife Tiffany when Myles was born.

Five weeks later, on May 7, on the eve of Mother’s Day, Andy Eckert called home from Iraq. Tiffany answered and instantly fund his voice distant.

“He had this strange premonition that he was going to die,” she said.

The next day, Andy Eckert was killed when an improvised explosive device blew up near his convoy.

Honoring his father

As Myles grew up, he thought of the father he never knew when he saw someone in uniform. He began to try to honor them as a way to honor his father.

That was his intention two years ago when he, Tiffany and his sisters Marlee and Berkley arrived at the Cracker Barrel in Maumee, Ohio, on a snow day from school and Myles found his $20 bill.

He was too shy to hand it to Dailey, so Tiffany went with him. “My son wants to give you this,” she told Dailey, handing him the money and note. “Have a nice day.”

Dailey, after reading Myles’ note, thanked the boy and asked about his father. He posted the act on his Facebook page, and soon local reporters were writing stories. Then CBS “On the Road” correspondent Steve Hartman aired a story on the nightly network newscast and the story went “viral” on the internet.

“My mom has taught us not to be selfish and to share with others,” Myles said last week. “It was the right thing to pay it forward. It is part of my father’s legacy”

Suddenly, thousands of people across the country – and from Europe too – sent Myles 500 to 700 $20 bills, video games, candy, T shirts, and notes of how he inspired them.

They sent the money to organizations that help war orphans and helped raise $1.8 million for one of them. They continue to help the Folds of Honor organization that raises money for educational scholarships for spouses or children of troops injured or killed.

Through it all, Tiffany doesn’t let her son get an inflated ego. He’s not allowed to Google himself. Rarely does he watch or read a story about him.

“Myles knows that normal little boys don’t get invited to the White House or meet President Bush in Texas, or go on Dr. Phil,” Tiffany said. “He’s internet famous and I don’t want that to change who he is. I’ve worked hard as a single parent to ensure my children are genuine, heart-felt kind of people.”

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