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Pay It Forward Memorial Day

Published May 24. 2014 09:00AM

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that honors all Americans who have died while in military service.

One little boy in Ohio observes Memorial Day every day of his life.

This story was introduced by CBS's Steve Hartman in a segment of "On the Road."

Myles Eckert of Waterville, Ohio, was only 4 weeks old when his father, Army Sgt. Andy Eckert, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, May 8, 2005, during his second tour of duty. From the moment of his death, his wife, Tiffany, has kept him alive for his children, Myles and his older sister, Marlee, through pictures and stories. Myles imagines his dad being a really nice, fun person who loves a good story. The family visits his grave site often where Myles hugs a slab of granite as he shares with his dad stories about his day and special happenings.

One such story was the day he found a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in Maumme, Ohio, on Feb. 7. Visions of a new video game danced in his head. As he and his family enjoyed their lunch, Myles noticed a soldier sitting at the table next to him with his wife and baby grandson. The video game was forgotten. Instead, he asked his mom for a piece of paper. On it he wrote, "Dear Soldier, My dad was a soldier. He's in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It's your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a gold star kid."

The soldier, Lt. Col. Frank Dailey, a 27-year military veteran serving with the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard, was deeply touched. Later, he took the $20 and paid it forward to someone else, anonymously.

After lunch, Myles asked his mom if she would take him to visit his dad because he wanted to tell him the story about what happened.

End of story? Wait. It just gets better.

The Daileys took a photo of Myles' note, shared it with their daughter who posted it on Facebook because they thought it was a neat story they wanted to share with their family and friends. According to an article written by Sarah Ottney, the story went viral. Soon the Eckert family was inundated with inquiries on how to send Myles money or video games. Instead, his mom redirected the requests to a fundraising website called "Crowdtilt" and set up an account for all donations to go directly to a charity called Snowball Express.

Snowball Express was founded in 2006 "to provide hope and new happy memories to the children of military fallen heroes who have died while on active duty since 9/11."

It offers children a four-day experience filled with fun activities like sporting events, dances, amusement parks and more, according to its website. The Eckert children have participated in Snowball Express events.

Well, Ellen DeGeneres heard about it and invited Myles and Frank Dailey to her March 13 show. She told Myles that she bet his dad was real proud of him and gave him the video game he was thinking of buying with the $20. She also gave him a standing invitation to visit Legoland the next time he visits California and gave Colonel Dailey and his wife a trip to Hawaii. In addition, the show donated $20,000 to Snowball Express. All of it snowballed into a matching grant program for $1 million by James Dondero, president of Highland Capital Management, starting it off with $150,000.

Actor Gary Sinise donated $75,000 to the fund and it continues to grow.

Enter Friendly's Ice Cream COO Steve Weigel. He was so moved by Myles' story, he shared it at his sales conference with all his franchise owners, vowing to do more things like Myles did by paying it forward every day. He wanted to throw an ice cream party at Myles' school in his honor. Instead, Myles wanted to pay it forward to another school, who he thought deserved it more. So, an ice cream truck pulled up to the Glendale-Feibach Elementary School, where 30 percent of the students have special needs.

Jeremy Baumhower, a reporter and father of an autistic son at the school, watched as another autistic student was so moved by what Myles did for them, he gave him a crumpled up dollar bill.

He said, "I was 'Myles'd' today, my heart changed forever by something I got to experience, with conversations I never thought I would have. To Myles: You may not realize what you gave me, but I'll do my best to pay it forward. Thank you for your gift today." He calls him "Mighty Myles."

Myles honors his dad's memory every day with the heart of a son. With one small selfless act of kindness in his dad's name, he instills in others the desire to do the same. So next time we have an opportunity to pay it forward, lets all do it in the memory of our fallen heroes. Let's make every day a Memorial Day.

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