Myles Eckert made CBS Evening News when he found a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel, wrapped it in a note and handed it to an Air National Guardsman dining with his family inside. The note read, in part, "My dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service."
Paying it forward to servicemembers makes the nine-year-old Gold Star son from Waterville, Ohio, "happy, happy, happy," he said, because "it reminds me of my dad."
Army Sgt. Gary "Andy" Eckert was killed in Iraq on Mother’s Day in 2005 when Myles was only four weeks old. The boy said he "feels like the spirit of my dad is in me" when he wears his father’s dog tags and wedding ring around his neck, which he did on May 16 when he was recognized for his selfless generosity by The American Legion Family of Ohio. Myles received his accolades alongside his mother Tiffany and 10-year-old sister Marlee, during the 51st Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Ohio’s Convention in Westlake.
"In one instant a young man personified everything our organization is about – paying it forward to veterans," said Jason Graven, internal affairs director for The American Legion Department of Ohio. "He took the $20 and used it to thank a veteran, to make that veteran’s life just a little bit easier."
Myles received an honorary lifetime SAL membership to Squadron 587 in Toledo, Ohio; a $5,000 donation in his name to the Folds of Honor Foundation from the Department of Ohio; and a complimentary invite for him and his family to attend the Auxiliary’s three-day Survivors of Fallen Heroes Family Camp this fall. SAL National Commander Joe Gladden presented Myles with his commander’s pin and coin, as well as a plaque on behalf of American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger.
"They say integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is looking — that’ what you did that day," Gladden said when recognizing Myles.
Paying it forward started as a coping mechanism for Tiffany when Andy passed away, and it has turned into a way of life to keep his spirit alive. "We do something daily, whether it be picking up a tab or leaving someone a note," Tiffany said. "It’s such a cool thing that my kids are at an age where they are paying it forward on their own; I’m not prompting them.
"I made a promise to Andy that I would keep his spirit alive. Andy loved (Myles and Marlee). He would have been such a great dad."
Besides making headline news nationwide for his act of kindness, Myles’ fame also landed him on the Ellen DeGeneres show. However, his favorite thing he has done so far is teamed up with a Friendly’s restaurant to give an ice cream party to a public school in Toledo. During the ice cream social, he talked to the kids about paying it forward, signed autographs and received a $1 bill from a student asking him to give it to a soldier.
"I like giving back to other veterans so they can feel good about themselves. Soldiers remind me of my dad; you should respect soldiers every day."
The American Legion has been strong supporters of Gold Star families since 1929, the founding of Gold Star Mothers. During its Spring Meetings in May, the National Executive Committee passed Resolution No. 22 to ensure that American Legion departments support the criteria established for the issuance of both Gold Star and Next of Kin of Deceased Personnel lapel buttons, and to provide public awareness of the significance of the two before and during Gold Star Banner ceremonies.