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‘Dakota’s Angels’ Make It Happen: Claremont Boy, 9, Gets Christmas Wish

  • Dakota hugs Robin Lescord of American Legion Post 29 and Rolling Thunder during a presentation at the post in Claremont. The two organizations gave Dakota round-trip tickets, a hotel stay and spending money so he could visit his father, an injured Iraq War veteran who lives in Texas and rarely sees his son. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Dakota hugs Robin Lescord of American Legion Post 29 and Rolling Thunder during a presentation at the post in Claremont. The two organizations gave Dakota round-trip tickets, a hotel stay and spending money so he could visit his father, an injured Iraq War veteran who lives in Texas and rarely sees his son. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dakota Bonner, 9, looks over an essay he wrote about his father before reading it at the American Legion in Claremont. In the essay, he describes the attack that trapped his father, Army Cpl. Robert Martin, in his burning vehicle. Martin sustained burns over 85 percent of his body, the family said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Dakota Bonner, 9, looks over an essay he wrote about his father before reading it at the American Legion in Claremont. In the essay, he describes the attack that trapped his father, Army Cpl. Robert Martin, in his burning vehicle. Martin sustained burns over 85 percent of his body, the family said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Joe Walbridge, a member of Rolling Thunder, of Claremont, NH, signs a card thanking Robert Martin of San Antonio, Texas for his military service Monday, December 16, 2013. Dakota Bonner, 9, will deliver the card to his father in Texas.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Joe Walbridge, a member of Rolling Thunder, of Claremont, NH, signs a card thanking Robert Martin of San Antonio, Texas for his military service Monday, December 16, 2013. Dakota Bonner, 9, will deliver the card to his father in Texas.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A photograph on a sign made by Dakota Bonner to honor his dad shows them playing during their last visit together in 2011, their first meeting since Dakota was 2 years old. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    A photograph on a sign made by Dakota Bonner to honor his dad shows them playing during their last visit together in 2011, their first meeting since Dakota was 2 years old.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sam Zannini, commander of American Legion Post 29 in Claremont, NH leads Dakota Bonner, 9, to a hired ride that will take him on the first leg of his trip to visit his father in San Antonio, Texas Monday, December 16, 2013. Bonner's father, Robert Martin, an Iraq war veteran, was badly burned when his convoy was attacked in 2007. The father and son have not seen each other since 2011.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Sam Zannini, commander of American Legion Post 29 in Claremont, NH leads Dakota Bonner, 9, to a hired ride that will take him on the first leg of his trip to visit his father in San Antonio, Texas Monday, December 16, 2013. Bonner's father, Robert Martin, an Iraq war veteran, was badly burned when his convoy was attacked in 2007. The father and son have not seen each other since 2011.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dakota Bonner, 9, settles in for  a sled for a ride with his sister, Faythe, 22 months, as their grandmother, Missy-Lynn Bonner, gathers up their puppy Nowhat outside their Claremont home on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Missy-Lynn Bonner accompanied Dakota to Texas, where the two visited Dakota's father, an injured Iraq war veteran. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Dakota Bonner, 9, settles in for a sled for a ride with his sister, Faythe, 22 months, as their grandmother, Missy-Lynn Bonner, gathers up their puppy Nowhat outside their Claremont home on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Missy-Lynn Bonner accompanied Dakota to Texas, where the two visited Dakota's father, an injured Iraq war veteran.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dakota hugs Robin Lescord of American Legion Post 29 and Rolling Thunder during a presentation at the post in Claremont. The two organizations gave Dakota round-trip tickets, a hotel stay and spending money so he could visit his father, an injured Iraq War veteran who lives in Texas and rarely sees his son. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Dakota Bonner, 9, looks over an essay he wrote about his father before reading it at the American Legion in Claremont. In the essay, he describes the attack that trapped his father, Army Cpl. Robert Martin, in his burning vehicle. Martin sustained burns over 85 percent of his body, the family said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Joe Walbridge, a member of Rolling Thunder, of Claremont, NH, signs a card thanking Robert Martin of San Antonio, Texas for his military service Monday, December 16, 2013. Dakota Bonner, 9, will deliver the card to his father in Texas.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • A photograph on a sign made by Dakota Bonner to honor his dad shows them playing during their last visit together in 2011, their first meeting since Dakota was 2 years old. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Sam Zannini, commander of American Legion Post 29 in Claremont, NH leads Dakota Bonner, 9, to a hired ride that will take him on the first leg of his trip to visit his father in San Antonio, Texas Monday, December 16, 2013. Bonner's father, Robert Martin, an Iraq war veteran, was badly burned when his convoy was attacked in 2007. The father and son have not seen each other since 2011.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Dakota Bonner, 9, settles in for  a sled for a ride with his sister, Faythe, 22 months, as their grandmother, Missy-Lynn Bonner, gathers up their puppy Nowhat outside their Claremont home on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Missy-Lynn Bonner accompanied Dakota to Texas, where the two visited Dakota's father, an injured Iraq war veteran. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Claremont — It is that time of year when the days drag on for boys and girls hoping for that special present under the Christmas tree.

But there is no waiting for Dakota Bonner. He received his gift last week, and it was more precious than any toy or video game.

On Monday morning, Dakota and his grandmother boarded a plane for a three-day, all-expense-paid trip to Texas to see his father, an Iraq war veteran who suffered severe burns six years ago.

“I’m going to tell him I love him and I miss him,” Dakota, 9, said during a send-off with his grandmother, Missy-Lynn Bonner, of Claremont, at the American Legion on Broad Street.

Smiling for cameras and accepting hugs from members of the Legion and Rolling Thunder motorcyclists, Dakota was eager to hop in the limo and head to the airport in Manchester.

His grandmother, wiping away tears at times, said the last time Dakota saw his father, Robert Martin, was Memorial Day 2011, when Martin came to Claremont.

“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “All the people helping Dakota, I’m calling them Dakota’s angels. When he said he wished to see his dad, they ran with it.”

Sam Zannini, commander for American Legion Post 29, said it was Dakota’s speech before the Legion on Veterans Day that put in motion a plan to get him to Texas.

“He gave a speech about how his father was injured and we were all touched,” Zannini said at Monday’s send-off. “We made a commitment to see what we could do to make it happen, and it did.”

According to information provided by Dakota’s grandmother to the American Legion, Martin joined the Army in June 2005 and earned the rank of corporal. He was honorably discharged in August 2010 is classified as a disabled veteran.

In his talk, Dakota spoke of his father’s decision to join the Army “because he wanted to take care of me.” Martin was deployed in August 2006, but before leaving, he came home to celebrate Dakota’s second birthday, the boy wrote.

On June 17, 2007, Martin was injured when the convoy he was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Martin suffered burns over 85 percent of his body.

“The truck in front was carrying fuel which landed on my dad. His door was jammed so he had to go out the back,” Dakota said. “This is the story of my brave Dad … Robert Timothy Martin.”

Dakota told the Legion he lives with his grandparents and younger brother, Levi, 5 and sister, Faythe, 22 months, and wished he could go to Texas to see his father again. (Family members said his mother is not involved in his life.)

Zannini said the part about Martin’s injuries “is what got me.”

“Someone was reading it on the phone and I was bawling my eyes out,” he said.

Zannini enlisted the help of the area chapter of Rolling Thunder, whose mission is to help veterans while also focusing on issues related to prisoners of war and those missing in action. Rolling Thunder president Dennis Desilets said the group was glad to help raise money for Dakota’s trip. “We raise money for causes to help these guys,” said Desilets.

But when word spread of their goal of sending Dakota to Texas, Desilets and Zannini said they got more than they had ever expected. “We were fortunate because the airlines donated the tickets (save for $60) and the Marriott donated the hotel room,” said Desilets, adding that the group was able to provide Dakota and his grandmother with some spending money.

Zannini said the hotel is ready for the visit. “All the employees can’t wait for them to get there,” he said.

At the Legion on Monday, Rick Bonner, Dakota’s grandfather, said his grandson was excited.

“He didn’t sleep last night. He hasn’t seen his dad for a while so it’ll be good for him and good for his dad,” Bonner said.

After being presented with tickets and getting a hug from Desilets and others, Dakota grabbed his bag of snacks and headed for the door with his grandmother and family. Legion and Rolling Thunder members, gathered in the bitter cold, applauded as they exited and watched them depart in a donated limo ride.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday evening, Dakota’s grandmother said the trip was been everything they hoped for — and a lot more — with gifts and tickets to several activities provided by the hotel in Texas. The special treatment started as soon as they arrived in Manchester.

“When we got to Manchester, they knew who Dakota was and they spoiled him on the plane,” she said.

There were a lot of veterans on the flight and the flight attendants made a card for his father and all the veterans signed it, she said. “It made me cry. It was so touching.” After they landed in Baltimore, and again in San Antonio, Dakota was invited by the pilots into the cockpit for a chance to see the controls.

Since their arrival, she said Dakota “has not stopped yet.” It has been a whirlwind of activity with trips to Ripley’s Believe or Not and a boat ride on San Antonio’s famed River Walk.

“It is so unbelievable to see them get to do things together. It has been fun, fun, fun,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.