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Stranger buys ticket for soldier to see family over Memorial Day

Posted at 5:42 PM, May 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-29 17:42:40-04

GRANITE CITY, IL (KTVI/CNN) -  A soldier flying standby hoped to visit his family over the Memorial Day weekend, but after waiting at the airport for two days, his chances didn't look good.

That's when a complete stranger stepped in to help by buying the soldier a last-minute plane ticket. Keaton Tilson is a vehicle mechanic with the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Hood in Texas.

He was stuck for two days at a Dallas airport, hoping to fly standby and see his family in the St. Louis area this weekend. But it wasn't looking good. That's when a complete stranger, St. Louis County resident Josh Rainey, offered his ticket, something airline rules just don't allow.

"Got discouraged. Apologized. He thanked me. I walked away, and I called my wife, 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,” Rainey said on Monday.

"I'm very appreciative, because if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be here right now. Honestly, I feel like I would still be at the airport, because it's Memorial Day weekend,” Tilson said.

The trip home comes during Memorial Day weekend, a time to honor those who died while serving in the country's armed services. "I know I'm in uniform, but at the same time, I'm a person just like he is, and for him to do that not even knowing who I am was just... it makes me so appreciative," Tilson said.

The kind gesture led to some emotional moments, the two men said. 

"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, so all the thank-yous from all the friends and family members have been really fantastic, but that hug was the biggest payment I received. It was really amazing,” Rainey said.

"There was really nothing I could do at that point to kind of repay the favor, and I don't think he was really looking for anything like that, but I just felt really appreciate so I gave him a hug. I even kind of shed a tear a little bit,” Tilson said.

Rainey said he will keep the ticket receipt to help him remember the aftermath of the decision he and his wife made.

"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,” Rainey said. 

Copyright 2017 KTVI via CNN. All rights reserved.