Though his dad died in action 12 years ago, this teenager was still given a birthday gift to remember from his fallen father – his prized Ford Bronco Truck.
In 2007, US Marine Sgt. Nick Walsh, 26, was fatally shot by a sniper in Iraq, leaving behind his two sons, Tristan, then four, and Tanner, who was just months old.
According to his wife, Julie, Walsh’s dream was to hand down his beloved ‘Eddie Bauer’ truck down to his son’s when Tristan turned 16.
But in the years after his death, the 1991 Bronco sat in the garage of the family’s home in Millstadt, Illinois, collecting dust and rusting away.
Nick Walsh (pictured) was just 26 was he was fatally shot dead by a sniper in Iraq 12 years ago
He left behind his wife Julie (left), a few-month old Tanner and four-year-old Tristan (middle)
However, on January 26 – Tristan’s birthday – the rest of the Walsh family walked into the Mertz Ford garage in their hometown, cheered on by a crowd of 100 people.
In attendance were family, friends and even a number of Marines who served with Sergeant Walsh.
Despite the ceremonious greeting, the teenager still had no idea what was about to happen.
Two months earlier, Julie had told her sons she had to sell their father’s ailing truck in order to raise funds to buy a new car.
The boys were devastated and Julie says Tristan didn’t talk to her for nearly two weeks – but it was all a rouse, in aid of a bigger plan.
According to Julie, Nick always wanted to hand the 1991 Bronco truck down to his children when they turned 16 (pictured: Tristan helps his dad clean the beloved car he now owns)
The truth, in fact, was that the Mertz garage had caught wind of the Walsh’s story and, with the help of local businesses, offered to fully restore the car free of charge.
Bringing the truck back to its former glory cost the garage nearly $12,000; but the look on Tristan’s face was priceless.
‘It just really warms my heart that you can give a little piece of him back,’ an emotional Julie announced after the car’s unveiling.
Julie said relations with her son became strained when she falsely told him the truck had been sold.
‘He gave me a death stare. A tear fell out of his eye. He said ‘whatever’ and went upstairs,’ she recalled.
The pair then only communicated in text messages for the next two weeks.
But with a tear in his eye, Tristan turned on the engine and his emotional demeanor was quickly superseded by a smile.
Julie had told her children she had to sell the ailing truck to raise funds for a new car
Tristan was stunned as a restored Bronco emerged from behind the curtain of the dealership in Millstadt, Illinois
Tearfully, the teenager declared he felt his father was with him again
Julie Walsh (right) says her and the boys are planning on taking a road-trip this summer to honor Nick’s legacy
‘I feel like he’s right with me now,’ Tristan emotionally told Fox 2 as he apologized to his mother.
‘I was so mean to you, I’m so sorry.
‘I’ll think about him every time I turn the truck on – I’m just so happy.’
Speaking to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Julie described the sentimental value the truck holds for their family and the memories they have of Nick.
‘If [Nick] could see this, he’d be over the moon,’ she said.
The family plan to take a road-trip in Nick’s honor this summer, with his eldest son in the drivers seat – just as he’d always planned.