Gold Star son honored for paying it forward

Myles Eckert 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 9-year-old Gold Star son from Waterville, Ohio, “happy, happy, happy,” he says, “because it reminds me of my dad.”

His heart-tugging story aired on CBS Evening News and whipped up a wave of social media buzz.

Army Sgt. Gary Eckert was killed in Iraq in 2005, when Myles was four weeks old. The boy says 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 May 16 when the American Legion Family of Ohio honored him alongside his mother Tiffany and 10-year-old sister Marlee during the 51st Sons of The American Legion Detachment of Ohio Convention.

“In one instant, a young man personified everything our organization is about: paying it forward to veterans,” said Jason Graven, the Department of Ohio’s internal affairs director.

Myles received an honorary lifetime SAL membership to Squadron 587 in Toledo, Ohio, and a $5,000 donation was made in his name to the Folds of Honor Foundation. He also received other gifts, including a plaque from American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger.

“They say integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is looking,” SAL National Commander Joe Gladden said when recognizing Myles. “That’s what you did that day.”

As for the boy, the sight of a soldier always brings his dad to mind. “You should respect soldiers every day,” he said.