Strangers Find Fallen Marine's Tribute Flag At Flea Market, Return It To His Grieving Mom

07/26/2014 12:15 pm ET | Updated Jul 26, 2014

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of two strangers and a wonderful stroke of luck, a grieving mother will be getting a special gift: a tribute to her Marine son, almost a decade after his death.

A few weeks ago, Patsy Maciel, who lives in Houston, Texas, says she got a strange message on Facebook. It was from a couple she didn’t know who said they had something to give her. It was a tribute flag, they explained, covered in handwritten messages of gratitude and remembrance, all for her son Fred.

Fred Maciel died in January 2005. He and 30 other troops were killed in a helicopter crash near Fallujah, Iraq. He was 20 years old.

After his death, his mom had received his personal effects. “His blue suits. Combat boots. He collected these little spoons,” Patsy, wearing a T-shirt with her son’s photograph on it, told local outlet KHOU 11 News. But she had never seen this tribute flag; in fact, she hadn’t even known it existed.

A few weeks ago, Lanie and Walter Brown happened to be at a flea market in Hemphill, about 170 miles away from Houston, when they spotted the tribute flag tucked away in a corner.

They didn’t know who Fred Maciel was or how the flag had ended up there, but they knew that they had found something extraordinary.

"We realized it was a flag intended for a fallen Marine," Lanie told Houston's KPRC-TV of the find. "We knew we had to take it home with us."

The Browns paid $5 for the flag. (Lanie told KPRC they got it cheap because it had writing on it.) When they got home, they scoured the Internet to find Fred's family.

The couple said they were especially desperate to get the flag to its rightful home because they felt a connection with the Maciels. Lanie and Walter’s son and son-in-law are both Marines, and Walter is a former Marine.

"When you're a Marine mom or Marine dad, all other Marine moms and dads are your brothers and sisters, and all Marine kids are your kids, too," Lanie told the news outlet.

The Browns have since connected with Patsy Maciel, The Associated Press reports, and the trio are planning to meet Saturday at Fred’s grave, where the couple will hand over the flag. Maciel says she can’t wait to read the messages to her son and says she’s so grateful to the Browns for this priceless gift.

“It is kind of like a piece of my son. It sounds crazy but that is a piece of my son coming back to me and I love them for that,” she told KHOU.

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