A little boy approached the tall guard in uniform and said: “Excuse me.” He asked again, “Excuse me, are you Santa Claus?” The man didn’t seem to acknowledge the child’s presence. “I heard you might be him. If you are him, here’s my list.” As, the boy reached out to give the guard his Christmas list, which was folded up, something sweet happened. The guard opened his hand and took the list, and the boy’s jaw dropped. Was this tall guard really jolly Saint Nick?
Obviously, the man wasn’t Santa, but he was a US Marine. And the story was actually part of a 1997 commercial for Toys for Tots. Toys for Tots is run by the Marine Corps, and this program provides toys on Christmas to underprivileged kids. And while the story of this young kid might be made up, the Marines’ generosity certainly isn’t. And just to prove it, here’s this amazing story of a young Florida boy.
At Pensacola Beach in Pensacola, Florida, there’s an annual event held called The Sea Turtle Youth Triathlon. The full triathlon is for kids ages 7 to 15, and it promotes athleticism for children starting at a young age. The swimming portion of the triathlon occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, but the bike and run portion is performed on a closed road. Volunteers oversee the entire event, which is where Matthew Morgan’s story begins.
Matthew Morgan moved from his native San Diego to Pensacola when he enlisted in the Marines and became a Private First Class at Marine Detachment Corry Station. One year, the station had 22 students, and their commanding officer, Captain Frank Anderson, ordered them to volunteer their time for the Sea Turtle Triathlon. The young Marines were in charge of supervising the race and making sure everyone stayed on track. But no one had anticipated what happened next.
Standing by the course on the run portion of the triathlon was Private Morgan, who waited for the young participants who had just about completed the event’s swim and bike portions. Then, he saw a group of kids approaching, and it made him smile as they ran and completed the event. But Private Morgan noticed something just as more of the kids crossed the finish line. There was one young man who was in a bit of jam.
Ben Baltz, who was 11, had fallen halfway through the course. So, Private Morgan rushed to his side to try and help him, and that’s when he noticed what the real issue was. The boy’s prosthetic leg had come right off. “I made it there first and he had already regained his composure and was trying to fix his leg. I asked if he needed help,” said Private Morgan. But the boy had a lot of drive in him, and he seemed determined to carry on.
Ben Baltz had participated in other triathlons. But when he was 6, doctors told him that bone cancer had affected his right leg. This meant that they had to remove his fibula and tibia. But young Ben wasn’t deterred by this major setback. Once Ben was in remission, he participated in sports again, but this time, he used a mechanical knee and an artificial running leg. And while he loves playing baseball and soccer, triathlons are his thing, especially this event.
Ben was doing great at the Sea Turtle Triathlon, which was his third event. He had finished the 150-year swim, as well as the 4-mile bike ride. He ran the one-mile run and was halfway to the finish line when his artificial limb started to get all wobbly. Then, suddenly, one of the screws came loose, and he fell down. But when Private Morgan arrived at the scene to assist, he knew that Ben was brave and certainly not a quitter.
Ben told Private Morgan: “No, I just want to finish the race.” But Ben’s mom was very worried about the welfare of her little boy. Kim Baltz told CNN: “It was only a mile, I knew he was tired, I was like, ‘Where is he, where is he, where is he?’” Private Morgan wanted to help Ben finish the triathlon, so he did something totally amazing.
The event announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to turn around and look at what’s happening on the course.” Ben’s mom immediately turned and saw something emotional. Private Morgan had helped the boy by putting him on his back and running the rest of the way to the finish line. The other Marines surrounded them and joined them in their run as the crowd applauded and cheered. And Mrs. Baltz couldn’t stop crying.
“It was just very touching that the Marines were there,” Ben’s mom shared. But the Marines simply saw it as part of the job. “We are selfless as an institution in the Marine Corps,” Captain Anderson stated. “Putting others before ourselves is second nature.” Anderson also praised Private Morgan for his kind action.
According to Captain Anderson, Private Morgan upheld the Marine Corps’ values and was extremely proud of him. “It’s great to see what Marines do – not leave anybody behind – is exemplified in the youngest members of our institution.” Private Morgan’s got a great career to look forward to, but how did Ben feel about what happened?
Mrs. Baltz said that Ben felt a bit embarrassed that he had to be carried across the finish line and that he couldn’t finish the race by himself. But Ben’s parents told him that he had nothing to be ashamed of. “We want to give him the message that he can do anything, and he has an inspirational story.” And Private Morgan completely agreed with that point of view.
Private Morgan had this to say about Ben. “As far as I’m concerned, he finished that race. As long as he knows he could’ve finished it and wanted to finish it, that’s all that matters.” Besides, with his parents’ support, he’ll get to participate in other races too. Mrs. Baltz added, “We just want him to get out there and participate in life.” All Ben needs to do is emulate the Marines, who have an amazing reputation for performing selfless acts like the one Private Morgan performed.
US Marine Miles Kerr ran a 5k race in Michigan in 2013, when he noticed that a boy had become separated from the rest of his group. Corporal Kerr fell back and ran alongside Boden Fuchs, who was 9, in order to motivate him to get all the way to the finish line. When the online community heard about what he’d done, they praised him. “As a Marine, we try to reach out and help as much as we can,” he explained. “I don’t think I’m a hero. I was just trying to help.”