When Candida Torre, a mother from Garden Grove, California, lost her son Jose, she was completely devastated.
The 21-year-old had been deployed in Iraq, serving as a combat engineer. Sadly, when his unit was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Baghdad, he didn’t make it out alive. As can be imagined, the loss was difficult for Candida, and she tried to hold on to any piece of her son that she could.
Before he passed away, Jose had bought his first new car, using money he earned serving in the military.
The soldier had chosen a sleek, black Nissan Cube and it had been his pride and joy. His mother had been driving it while he was deployed, but after his passing, she knew she had to hold on to it for good. Candida felt close to her son while she was driving the car. It was like he was still around her, and she was comforted by the presence.
One day, however, Candida got into an accident with her late son’s car— and it was totally destroyed in the wreck.
The car had suffered extensive front-end damage and Candida’s insurance declared it as a total loss. When Officer John Baggs attended the scene, however, something caught his eye.
He noticed Candida wearing Jose’s dog tags around her neck, and when he checked the back, he saw a gold star license plate on the car— a symbol that a family member was killed during active duty in the military. Coincidentally, Officer Baggs’ father was also a soldier. He had served two tours in Vietnam, later joining the National Guard where he perished in a Veteran’s Day plane crash in 1976.
Seeing Jose’s dog tags resonated with Officer Baggs— and, as a result, he immediately decided to help.
“I thought, well, I work with some great people and I knew I could pass around a couple envelopes and probably buy this car before they scrap it, and maybe start working on getting it fixed,” Officer Baggs told CBS Los Angeles.
“And I mentioned that to AAA. And after about an hour they got back to me and said, ‘We’re just going to donate it to you.”
Once the officer had gotten the car, he still needed to get it repaired. Luckily, Caliber Collision, a local repair shop, caught wind of the story and volunteered to repair the car for free.
“Everybody at my shop actually went ahead and touched the car,” David Perez, from Caliber Collision, explained.
“For them, it felt more than just repairing a car. It felt like we were restoring somebody to the rhythm of their life.”
Caliber Collision did more than just repair the car, though. They also added a few special touches: “On the back windshield is a tattoo that [Jose] and his platoon had,” David Goldstein, also from Caliber Collision, said. “And there’s one on the dashboard.”
While the community was working hard to get Candida’s surprise prepared, the mother had absolutely no idea!
When her family brought her to the Huntington Beach Police Department helicopter hangar, she just assumed they were going on a helicopter ride!
“It all started making sense when [Officer Baggs] started talking about the collaboration [between AAA and Caliber Collision],” she said.
“I was looking around trying to find my family, and I couldn’t find them, and then the car appeared.”
“It’s so nice to know that there are people in the world that have a good heart and are willing to pay it forward,” she said, afterward.
See the mother’s reaction to the surprise below!
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