It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be just 19 years old and in the army.
But one thing’s for sure, you’d miss home, and you’d miss your family. Which is why US soldier Keaton Tilson decided to try and get home to Granite City, Illinois for Memorial Day (29 May in the US), aiming to surprise his three siblings who were not expecting him back – and who had last seen him at Christmas.
Unfortunately, he could only afford to fly standby – a process whereby your ticket is free, but you have to wait for a spare seat to become available – and had been stuck at a Dallas Airport for two days. It begun to look like he wouldn’t make it – until a complete stranger stepped in.
At first, a man named Josh Rainey offered Tilson his ticket, but airlines rules would not allow it. However, he then had another idea.
"I walked away and I called my wife," Rainey said, "which I would do in a situation like that to kind of ask for her advice. And we agreed both that it was the right thing to do to go back and buy the ticket."
The gate agent processed the $350 for the ticket and then Josh handed it to Tilson. The soldier shook his hand and repeated, "Thank you! Thank you!" before calling his mum – who knew of his plan to visit – to say, "Somebody just bought my ticket."
"I'm very appreciative, because if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be here right now," Tilson said. "Honestly, I feel like I would still be at the airport, because it's Memorial Day weekend."
Rainey explained that they “just shook hands at first, and then he walked away, and then he came back and asked if he could hug me. And I think we both had to fight back the tears after that. So, it was pennies. It was pennies on the dollar compared to what I got back after he gave me that hug.
"I'm keeping the receipt from the airline, and it's on the fridge right now. And I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but it's going to be with me always, just so I can remind myself of what's really important in life. And that's family and serving others."
The story only became public after Keaton’s mum Jennifer decided to make it so.
"I needed to personally and publicly thank him," she said.
"You don't hear of that all the time – of a complete stranger willing to spend all that money. We needed to find out who he was. We are super appreciative that Josh did this so Keaton could come home.”