The only thing 16-year-old Triston Walsh wanted was to have something to remember his dad, who lost his life while serving in the military, by. For him, that was his father's car, a Ford Bronco that was bright red and full of memories for Triston and his younger brother, Tanner.
But when his mom told him she had sold his old man’s Ford Bronco, the teen got very upset. In fact, he was so angry that he told his mom he didn’t want to talk to her anymore. So, his mom decided to do something very special to win her son’s forgiveness.
Triston Walsh Was Trying to Lead a Normal Life
Triston was attending the 10th grade at Belleville West High School in Millstadt, Illinois, where he and his mom, Julie, and his 12-year-old brother, Tanner lived when he discovered that his dad's Ford was gone. But his mom and dad had fallen in love in a different state.
His Mom Met His Dad When She Was 21
Julie Kilgore grew up in Millstadt. When she was 21, she worked at the bar at a marines’ event in North Carolina. This is where she met her future husband, Nick Walsh, a soldier who was attending the training Camp Lejeune for the Marine Corps in Jacksonville. But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for the young couple.
She Gave Him a Fake Number
Walsh fell in love with Kilgore right away, but she didn’t feel the same for him. So, when he asked for her phone number, she told him it was 867-5309, which is the number from the famous song “Jenny” by Tommy Tutone. It wasn’t long before he realized that the number was fake, but he was still determined to see her again.
Most Guys Would Have Walked Away
Most guys would have shaken their head and never looked back if a woman did to them what Kilgore had done to him. But Walsh couldn’t get this gorgeous woman out of his mind, so he decided that he had to do something about it.
He Went to the Bar to Serenade Her
Despite Kilgore’s deception, Walsh was determined to win her over. So, he revisited the bar and this time, he had a plan. He took a moment to learn all the words in the song that she tricked him with and then decided to serenade her. But would she really be convinced to go out with him after his performance?
She Realized He Was Serious
Kilgore couldn’t believe he had gone through all this trouble just for her, and she soon realized Walsh was interested in more than just a fling. In fact, in January 2019, she told the Belleville News-Democrat: “He was charming and he had this big smile. I just couldn’t not give [my number] to him.”
They Fell Deeper in Love
Kilgore agreed to go on one date with Walsh, but she had no idea that he was her destiny. As they continued to date, the bartender and soldier fell more deeply in love with each other. And once he completed his military training, the couple moved back to Illinois to resume a more normal life.
He Started Working in Construction
With his life as a marine behind him, Walsh took on a job in construction while he enlisted at Southwestern Illinois College. But he didn’t want to stop serving his country, so he signed up with the U.S. Navy Reserve. And then, their family grew.
There Was a New Addition to Their Nest
In January 2003, the happy couple welcomed their son Triston. It was a joyous time for Kilgore and Walsh, but it was only a matter of time before life threw a wrench in their proverbial cogs.
He Became a Stay-at-Home Dad
Kilgore wanted to pursue her career as a nurse and Walsh understood that. More importantly, he loved her so much that he made a big sacrifice and agreed to stay at home and take care of their son while she followed her dreams. But their next step as a family seemed clear.
They Got Married
Traditionally, love comes first. Then comes marriage. Then comes the couple with the baby carriage. But they were pretty unconventional. So, in 2005, Walsh and Kilgore got hitched and it was an epic ceremony that neither of them would ever forget. But he did something before the wedding that had surprised Kilgore.
Two days before their wedding, Walsh re-enlisted with the Marine Corps. Fortunately, his blushing bride was okay with it. “He said, ‘I just have this need. I just feel like this is my purpose.’ It was his calling to be in the military and serve his country,” she shared in an interview.
He Divided His Time Carefully
Unfortunately, Walsh was posted to Camp Pendleton, California, and was eventually deployed to Iraq for six months. Once he returned, he decided to spend some quality time with his beloved wife and his son, Triston.
Walsh Was Gifted a Ford Bronco
Then, in 2006, Walsh’s dad, Jerry, gifted him a 1990 Ford Bronco Truck, which was located in Colorado. This meant that Walsh had to take a plane there and then drive back to California, which he did with his little boy. In the end, the trip and the vehicle became a very cherished memory for the child.
It Was the Most Memorable Road Trip Ever
“They took the scenic route through the mountains because Nick wanted Triston to see it,” Kilgore told the Belleville News-Democrat. “They slept in the truck and had kind of a bonding experience. Nick loved what he was doing [in the military], but he felt bad about missing some of Triston’s milestones.”
He Went on His Second Tour of Duty
Walsh was shipped to Iraq on his second tour on April 1, 2007, which was three months after Kilgore gave birth to their second son, Tanner. Two months into his tour, he had one final conversation with his wife that she would never forget.
He Was Always In Control
Kilgore was used to her military husband being so calm, upbeat and in control. But in their final conversation, something had changed in him, and her heart went out to him. What was wrong with him in that moment?
He Missed His Kids
He never questioned his decision to be a military man, but he was a proud dad of two beautiful sons. And what he wanted more than anything in this world was to be at their sides so he could watch them grow up into the amazing men they were destined to be. But sadly, that wasn’t meant to be.
He Wanted to Go Home
Kilgore recalled that her husband didn’t sound right. Not only did he admit to having issues getting a good night’s rest, but he cried because he missed her and the boys so much. By that point, all he wanted to do was head home, but he never did.
They Were Stranded in a Hostile Region
Hours after he made the call to his wife, the Humvee Walsh was in suffered a flat tire. Suddenly, he and his unit were stuck in Fallujah waiting for assistance outside of the vehicle. But this was not the place they wanted to be in as the area was full of enemies and hostilities could break out at any second.
Walsh and His Unit Were Attacked
A shot rang out and Kilgore detailed what happened to her husband next. “[Nick’s] friend said he felt a bullet whiz by him and then he heard Nick say, ‘Oh that hurts,’ and then he just fell to the ground and everybody ran to take cover.” The bullet from an enemy sniper had struck Walsh’s arteries and one of his lungs. Sadly, he didn’t survive. He was only 26 years old at the time.
Friends of Her Husband Broke the News
The following morning, Kilgore was busy feeding Tanner while Triston watched cartoons in their California home. That’s when she heard a knock on the door. She got up and answered it but when she saw her husband’s military chums, she knew something was wrong.
She Didn’t Know How to Tell Her Oldest Son
“I thought, ‘How can I tell his son, “Your dad is never coming home”?’ Triston was just so excited every time he called. He just couldn’t wait. He was so attached to him,” she shared.
She Moved the Whole Family to Her Hometown
Kilgore relocated from California to Chicago with her kids. Two years later, they moved to Millstadt, which was her hometown. And by 2010, she found love again in Nick O’Donnell, a high school history teacher. But that’s not all Kilgore had.
Her Family Grew Once Again
She had mourned Walsh for too long, but when O’Donnell walked into her life, she saw a chance at happiness, and she grasped it. What’s more, she had two little girls with him— 3-year-old Tatum and 9-month-old Tinley. But her eldest son Triston always held onto his dad’s memory.
The Ford Bronco Meant the World to Triston
Triston lost his dad when he was four, but he was old enough to remember the road trip he took with his dad in the Ford Bronco. And the truck had remained parked in the garage until Triston was old enough to drive it. But then, something unexpected happened to his dad’s legacy.
The Bronco Vanished Without a Trace
December 2018 is a date that Triston will never forget because that was the time that his dad’s Bronco went missing. He had always imagined that he would inherit the truck, but he was suddenly slapped with the reality that this would not happen. But who took the Bronco and where did it go?
Mom Made a Shocking Confession
“[Triston] said, ‘Where’s my dad’s truck?’ And I was like, ‘Well, kiddo, I had someone come out and look at it, and it’s going to cost way too much to fix it, so I sold it and I’m going to use the money to buy you a better car,” Kilgore explained. And as expected, Triston was hopping mad.
Triston Stormed Off
Triston stormed off in anger and didn’t speak to his mom for a whole two weeks. Unfortunately, he was so blinded by anger that he couldn’t see what his mother was really up to. But she wasn’t sure if he could handle any more surprises.
She Had a Plan for the Truck
Kilgore had reached out to a Ford dealership to figure out what was needed to get the Bronco working again. After all, it hadn’t been turned on and driven in 12 years, so the engine had degraded over time.
A Ford Expert Weighed in on the Truck
“It was in pretty rough shape. It was garage-kept, so it looked pretty good. But there were mechanical problems from it sitting around for so long,” explained Ricky Boyer, the service manager at Mertz Ford in Granite City. So, while her son was in school, the Bronco was towed to the nearest workshop for inspection.
The Truck Underwent an Overhaul
The truck was fitted with a new suspension system and radiator as well as new rotors, brake pads and a battery. Even the wheels received some tender loving care at the shop, which made sense since Boyer and his team saw this project as an act of love. But they had some help with the project.
The Shop Got Car Parts for Free
Mechanics Tim Jarrett and John McCall from Mertz joined Boyer’s team to work on the repairs on nights and weekends free of charge. And they were all very lucky because they also received donated car parts to help with the job.
They Wanted the Truck to Be Safe for Triston
“We pretty much wanted to touch every nut and bolt on the vehicle because of its age. We wanted to make sure it was safe and dependable for him,” Boyer explained. This was all part of Kilgore’s plan, too.
Kilgore Wanted the Truck to Be Operational Again
Kilgore never planned to sell the truck after it was repaired because she knew that the truck meant everything to Triston. And since her son was about to turn 16, he would want to drive his dad’s truck once he got his driver’s license.
Her Lie Was Intended to Throw Him Off
Kilgore had lied to Triston about selling the car and she lied to him again when she told him that Mertz Ford had a car that she wanted him to take on a test drive. In reality, there was no car; just his dad’s Bronco.
Triston Went to the Ford Dealership With His Family
The reluctant teen walked into the Ford dealers’ showroom with his mother and brother by his side, but there was a crowd there waiting to see the reaction on his face when he discovered what his mom had done for him. And the Bronco was hidden behind a paper curtain, ready to be revealed.
He Had No Idea What Was Happening
Despite the military color guard and the group of family and friends around, he had no idea what was really going on. And he was still a bit blinded by his anger over his mom selling his late dad’s Bronco. But what he thought was lost had simply gotten a makeover.
The Bronco Made an Appearance
After a short presentation, the truck drove slowly through the paper curtain. Suddenly the 100 Mertz Ford employees and military personnel started applauding and cheering while the family looked on with heavy emotion. And Triston couldn’t stop wiping the tears from his face.
He Walked Over to the Truck
Triston approached the truck and took a good look at it. It was the same Bronco but it looked different somehow; newer even. Then his mom asked: “Do you want to get in?” And he innocently replied, “Yeah.”
Triston Was Very Happy With His Surprise
Triston hadn’t been this happy since his dad was alive and it was all thanks to his mom and the work that the Ford shop had performed on the Bronco. But will he ever know how much hard work went into the truck?
Local Businesses Lent a Hand
The Marine Reconnaissance Foundation had paid for everything and once Mertz started working on the truck, local businesses joined in to lend a hand financially. And all this help was thanks to the fact that Walsh was loved by the local community so they were more than happy to put a smile on his son’s face.
It Was a Major Event
Family and friends had also gotten involved to ensure that this was a birthday bash that Triston would never forget. This included tons of decorations, cupcakes, and, of course, catering. They even had a videographer and photographer to document the event that reminded Kilgore of her late husband for a very special reason.
The Event Reminded Her of Her Late Husband
Making her son happy on his 16th birthday was Kilgore’s main priority, but there was something even more touching about this event. “Nick’s contagious love and ability to bring people together continued,” Kilgore wrote on a Facebook post on January 31, 2019.
The Event Had a Patriotic Theme
To honor Triston’s father, the event had red, white and blue stars hanging from the ceiling, as well as a portrait of Walsh in his marine’s uniform. His dress uniform was right next to the portrait. But they also hung a sign that had the name of everyone who contributed in the Bronco’s makeover.
The Joy on Triston’s Face Was Priceless
“It was overwhelmingly sweet,” Karrie Vanhosser, Kilgore’s cousin told the Belleville News-Democrat. “The look on [Triston’s] face was priceless. It makes me sad that his dad wasn’t here to see it.”
It Was a Collective Effort Made by the Community
The community wanted to show their appreciation for Walsh’s service and sacrifice. “It started out as something small and it just kept growing. Everybody was chipping in, and our employees agreed to do the work on their own time. I’m so proud of them. It was all for someone who made the ultimate sacrifice,” explained Mertz Ford owner Don Mertz.
Walsh Was Looking Down on Them
For Kilgore, the love and support from her loved ones and the community was overwhelming. And in some ways, she could still feel Walsh’s presence. “I know Nick Walsh is shining down on all of us. To lift our spirits, to let us know he’s still near and to bring us all a little closer together,” she wrote on Facebook.
He Still Had a Piece of His Dad With Him
This wasn’t just about the truck as far as Triston was concerned, but about the memories he had experienced with his dad when they crossed four states to bring the Bronco home. “It just means so much to me. I’m just really happy that I’m able to have a piece of my dad left with me,” Triston shared with the Belleville News-Democrat.
It Was a Moment He Will Never Forget
In the end, Triston went from being epically upset and disappointed with his mother to thinking that she was the coolest mother ever. And he’ll never forget how happy he was when he got into the driver’s seat and started the engine while everyone inside the showroom cheered him on.