Nightly News   |  December 20, 2013

Bringing joy to children in military families

A teenager whose father died in the Iraq war is now drawing on his own experience to help other kids this holiday season. NBC’s Kate Snow reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight a story about an image you may recall. it's a photograph shot in 2007 that seemed to vividly capture the emotion of a child who lost a military father to the war in iraq . today that child is a young man who is drawing on his own experience to make a difference for other kids this holiday season . here is our national correspondent kate snow .

>> reporter: he was only 8 years old when this famous photo was taken. christian received the flag from his father mark's casket. his mother heather by his side, comforting him. that little boy with the trembling lip is 15 now, a high school sophomore who loves lacrosse.

>> now that i'm older i really understand not having a dad -- like the impact that has. a lot of the t time during lacrosse games i can look over and see everyone else's dad and my mom just next to them. it's always a reminder there that i don't have him.

>> reporter: the holidays are particularly tough for christian and his mother.

>> you find a new normal, new traditions, ways to get through the holidays.

>> reporter: so this is their tradition now -- picking out the perfect present for other military children. like connor and cooper bunting, whose father bubba was killed in afghanistan.

>> it was neat to see my kids light up and be happy to get this package full of stuff. it wasn't even christmas yet.

>> reporter: christian chose pint-sized lacrosse sticks for the boys.

>> christian seems like a remarkable teenager to want to give to other families is so special. that's not something a lot of teenagers are thinking about these days.

>> reporter: christian is passing on the kindness he received when a family friend, so moved by his photo, sent christian a gift. that gesture boomed into this -- a group called a soldier's child which gives gifts to children of service members around the holidays and on their birthdays.

>> thank you!

>> reporter: christian says giving to others helps him heal.

>> i hope they feel like i did the first year when i got it -- just really nice inside. the thought of knowing that someone else is thinking about you over the holidays.

>> people helped us when we didn't even know we needed help yet. it's always been important to us to pay it forward. and that's just become part of his life.

>> reporter: it's something his dad lived by, too.

>> christian, i love you. i can't say that enough.

>> reporter: he would like what you're doing? spl yeah.

>> reporter: he would be proud?

>> yeah. he would be smiling.

>> reporter: the power of one young man spreading the joy of the season in honor of his father. kate snow , nbc news, maryland.