BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A seven year old girl whose father died serving our country got a huge surprise Thursday. Anna Lee Daniel was chosen to attend a special banquet in Dallas with other children of fallen heroes.
Her journey was marked with special moments that unfolded long before her plane left the ground.
The Patriot Guard Riders lined up outside of the University Lab School for a special assignment. The men who are often times tasked with rendering honors at military funerals were there to escort a very special little girl to a one-of-a kind celebration at the airport.
Ride Captain Jon David greeted Anna Lee with a personal military tribute.
"The sacrifice she made for for what her dad did for this country won't hit her for maybe 20 years," said David.
Anna Lee's father, Staff Sgt. William Austin Daniel, served in the Louisiana National Guard 256th Infantry Brigade. His mother, Alice, says he survived being hit with six IEDs while serving in Iraq, but she says Daniel lost his battle with cancer in 2009. Anna Lee was just two years old.
"It breaks your heart when she says 'I'm the only one in the class without a daddy'," said Alice.
Anna Lee has learned she is not alone. In fact, she and her grandmother are heading to Dallas to meet up with hundreds of other families of fallen military heroes for a big weekend called Snowball Express.
"I think the most important thing for her to understand is that she is not unique. That there are other children that have suffered the same loss," said Alice.
American Airlines, which sponsors the Snowball Express flights, welcomed them with a private Spongebob Squarepants send off party, complete with a bubble machine, crab daddy patties, gifts and two cakes to mark the occasion.
Anna Lee wears her father's photo with pride, and while she was too young to remember what he was like, her relatives have done a good job filling in the blanks.
"I feel like I'm really proud of my dad, like I miss him very much," said Anna Lee.
This will be a big weekend for Alice too.
"It's always nice to talk to others who have sent their babies off to war," said Alice.
There will be concerts, movie premieres, and a big banquet in Dallas over the weekend, but Anna Lee is mostly looking forward to being a kid.
"I just want to play," she said.
Anna Lee got to Marshall in her own flight, which got a water cannon salute during departure. The inside of the plane was also decorated.