MILLSTADT, IL - It's the best birthday gift ever for a Triston Walsh, 16, of Millstadt.
The gift is from his father, Marine Sgt. Nick Walsh, killed in action nearly 12 years ago.
It was Sgt. Walsh’s 1991 Ford Bronco.
Less than two months ago, the vehicle seemed to be a lost cause but when Triston’s mom dragged him to the Mertz Motors car dealership on his birthday, Saturday, the Bronco looked brand new.
Triston thought he was going there to look at another car to buy.
Even with a military color guard and crowd of family and friends there, Triston had no clue what was about to happen.
Triston’s dad was killed by a sniper in Fallujah, Iraq in 2007. He was 26. Triston was 4. Brother Tanner was just a baby.
Sgt. Walsh loved his ‘Eddie Bauer’ Bronco so much he planned to give it to his son this very day.
“I’ve known this truck for so long,” Triston said.
His mom held onto it all these years, but it fell into disrepair.
In a Facebook post, she asked friends if she should even bother trying to fix it up.
In early December, the team at Mertz caught wind of it. Businesses around town donated. The end product was an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 restoration job, free of charge.
“It’s unbelievable all the stuff they did,” said Don Mertz, who operates the dealership.
Triston’s mom decided to surprise him with the restored Bronco on his 16th Birthday. There was a snag. Mom’s cover story to her sons backfired. She told them she sold the Bronco and would use the cash to get Triston a different car.
“If looks could kill…just hatred in his eyes…tear rolled down his cheek,” Triston’s mom, Julie Walsh said.
“I was so mad at her. I didn’t talk to her for about 2 weeks,” Triston said, wiping tears.
The instant that motor roared, all was forgiven. Triston drove the Bronco out of the showroom. His smile conquered his tears. It felt like his dad was there, especially with his dad’s Marine buddies coming in from Utah, Nebraska, and Maryland, for this very moment.
“It’s just to show the boys, no matter where they go, no matter what they do, somebody’s going to look out for them,” said Sgt. Walsh’s Marine buddy, Ben Pollmeier.
“For him to be able to have his dad’s vehicle was just a full circle,” added Marine pal, Terry Wiese.
“I just feel (Nick) around us so much … I know he’s sending all of us signs he is still here and looking out for us. It’s a really comforting feeling to have. It really is,” Julie Walsh said, choking back tears.
“Every time I’m going to drive this…I feel like he’s with me…sitting right over there,” Triston said, crying.
Just like dad planned it for his son’s first car.