Memorial Day weekend is the time to honor those who sacrificed their lives serving their country in the armed forces. It is also a special time for those serving in the military to spend some well-earned vacation time with their family.
Keaton Tilson was excited to be going home for four days for Memorial Weekend. He’d been serving in the army as a mechanic at Fort Hood, Texas, and hadn’t seen his family since Christmas.
Given the last minute go-ahead to take leave, the 19-year-old rushed to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and bought a standby ticket, hoping to catch an early morning flight back to St. Louis, Missouri.
But it wasn’t as easy to get home as he’d hoped—he was travelling at one of the busiest times of year. Tilson waited … and waited.
Clutching his standby ticket, the young soldier watched as each airplane came and went. There was no seat on any flight.
Hours went by and Tilson was still waiting at the airport, no closer to his mom and kid brother and sister in Granite City, Illinois, than before. And it was eating in to his precious leave.
Tilson was desperate and at his wits end.
He ended up stuck at the airport for two days.
Another passenger noticed his distress.
One passenger, Josh Rainey, who was waiting to catch his flight, was moved by the plight of the teenager in uniform.
“I noticed this kid at the ticket counter that seem really stressed out. I saw a ticket agent also seemed really stressed out couldn’t help,” Rainey told KSDK-TV.
“It didn’t look like he just wanted to go home, it looked like it was for a reason,” Rainey, from Glendale, Missouri, told ABC7 News.
Rainey admired the young man’s love for his family and country.
“He has chosen to give up at least the next four years of his life. He got the week off. Instead of choosing to travel or see another country, he had to get home to his family,” Rainey said.
He was a poignant reminder of Rainey’s own father who served in the army for 30 years, according to KSDK-TV.
And he was stuck at the airport on the weekend of Memorial Day—the day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
What an ironic twist of fate.
Rainey knew he had to help. His flight was boarding soon. He offered to exchange his ticket with Tilson.
“I’ll go on a later flight,” Rainey told the ticket agent, according to CBS.
Airline policy would not allow switching tickets at such short notice, however.
Rainey was determined to help Tilson. He called his wife and explained Tilson’s situation.
On the spot, Rainey bought Tilson a $350 airplane ticket home.
Tilson was bowled over by the generosity of this stranger. He thanked him again and again.
“I’m very appreciative because if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” Tilson said to Fox 2 News when back in Illinois.
They shook hands, and Tilson gave Rainey a big hug. It was an emotional time for both of them.
“We both had to fight back the tears after that,” Rainey said to Fox 2 News. “That hug was the biggest payment that I received, it was really amazing.”
Rainey was overwhelmed by how much the ticket meant to Tilson.
“It made so many people happy, it made my family really happy,” Rainey told KSDK-TV.
Tilson’s family was overjoyed with the gift from this kind stranger, who also lived nearby. His mom, Jennifer, thanked Rainey in person, according to CBS News.
The two men hope to keep in touch, according to KSDK-TV.
And Rainey told Fox 2 News he’s kept the receipt from the airline as a reminder of what’s most important in life: “Family and serving others.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated Rainey and Tilson’s hometowns. Epoch Times regrets the error.