(NEW YORK) — In 2009, when Dashauna Priest was just 9 years old, her third grade class project was to write letters of gratitude to military veterans. Priest’s letter was sent to Frank Grasberger, a World War II veteran, and he’s kept it ever since.
“It meant so much to me and touched my heart so much,” Grasberger told “Good Morning America.” “Keeping it with me made me feel like I was with her, protecting her.”
In addition to the note of thanks, Priest drew a helmet with flowers coming out of it and an American flag on the letter, which Grasberger said “really touched” him.
“I felt like how could such a young girl understand what war was and how could she be so kind writing to someone she didn’t even know?” he said.
Grasberger knew he wanted to meet Priest immediately after reading the letter but was unable to find her, he said. Jill Pawloski, an employee at VITALIA Senior Residences in Strongsville, Ohio, where Grasberger lives, stepped in and tracked Priest down on social media.
“I reached out and sent her a private message explaining the situation,” Pawloski told “GMA,” adding that Grasberger was unaware that she was searching for Priest on his behalf. “I then asked her if she’d be interested in coming to our community to surprise Frank and without hesitation she said yes. I was thrilled and so full of joy that I could do this for Frank. He has such a huge heart and I knew this would fill his heart up.”
Priest, now 21, told “GMA ” that Pawloski’s message went to the requests folder on Instagram, which she “usually doesn’t open” but for some reason did that day.
“It’s so ironic because two weeks before I had opened up my memory box and went through it and I actually picked up [Grasberger’s] letter and read it,” Priest said. “So when she had messaged me, I had opened it around 12 at night and I actually cried because it was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy I just read the letter.’”
In response to Priest’s original letter, Grasberger wrote her a letter back in 2009, but he said he “never knew if she ever received it.”
After 12 years, the pair were able to finally meet on July 23 of this year. With the help of Grasberger’s family, Pawloski was able to keep the meeting a secret from Frank so that it could be a surprise.
“We told him that someone was coming in to interview him about his story,” Pawloski said. “We were all in tears watching [them] meet for the first time. It was beautiful and heartwarming and showed what a little act of kindness can do for two strangers.”
“Oh God, I was in shock like it couldn’t be the girl,” Grasberger said. “I never thought I’d find her let alone see or meet her. It was amazing. I went through a box of Kleenex.”
Priest said of the meeting: “It was amazing. He’s a very amazing person. He has a great personality. I was really thrilled to meet him. He was just full of life.”
Grasberger, along with his family and Pawloski, had another surprise waiting for them. In a full-circle moment, Priest arrived wearing her National Guard uniform as she herself has joined the military.
“No one had known I was in the military so when I showed up in my uniform it sparked something in everyone to start crying and it made me cry,” Priest said, adding that she’s not typically a crier.
“I’m so proud of her,” Grasberger said. “She’s like a third daughter to me. She has become such a wonderful nice girl. I hope her son knows one day what a difference she made in my life.”
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