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Fargo veteran's last wish to see daughter down the aisle comes true

FARGO -- He'd made it through a year in Vietnam, 35 years of marriage and three children, but with just one month to go before his daughter's Feb. 6 wedding, it was becoming clear Eldon Frye wasn't going to make it down the aisle with her.

It had always been an important milestone to both of them, his daughter said. Teah Frye Moncada recalls all the times they'd talked about it, from when she was a little girl through all the ball games they'd attended and the shared hunting and fishing trips in western North Dakota.

"I'm his baby girl. I'm his only girl," she said. "It's always been our dream."

In October, when Eldon was hospitalized with lung cancer, he sat his daughter's boyfriend of a year and a half on his hospital bed, looked him in the eye, and told him he had one wish: He wanted to walk Teah down the aisle.

Aaron proposed shortly thereafter and the couple set the date for a February wedding at First Lutheran Church in downtown Fargo.

"He sees how Aaron looks at me," she said softly. "And how much he loves me."

But as anyone knows who's ever dealt with cancer, the hope sometimes runs out faster than the wishes.

By Jan. 2 a hospice nurse pulled Teah aside and said that her father's failing health meant that wedding wish just wasn't realistic anymore.

That's where Wishes on Wings came in.

The Fargo Veterans Affairs organization has been using donations to fund wishes for veterans with life-limiting or terminal illness for roughly the past decade.

The wishes they've granted in that time have been everything from a simple Italian dinner with family to hayrides to helicopter rides to a convertible ride in a parade thrown in honor of the veteran who'd made the wish, said Fargo VA Hospice and Palliative Care Coordinator Cathy Bauer-Kottenbrock.

They grant every wish they can, she said, remembering a former paratrooper client.

"He'd like one last jump, but he can't," said Bauer-Kottenbrock. "Too cold, wrong time of year."

But a wedding, they could do, said Teah.

As staff, nurses and chaplains swung into action, they got a rule prohibiting weddings in the hospital chapel lifted and Teah's dad ready for his trip down the aisle in a wheelchair pushed by her mom.

The small bedside ceremony they'd planned grew to a real wedding of 30 to 40 people, complete with borrowed gown, flowers, bridesmaids, and chicken pot pie and champagne for the reception.

Some groomsmen and bridesmaids couldn't be there in time and Aaron's grandmother had to stand up for him. But "it was awesome," Teah said. "The most important people were there."

"Lots of tears," said Bauer-Kottenbrock. "Mostly staff ... We get to know these guys, too. We get to know the families."

What Teah didn't know was the last surprise Wishes on Wings had planned for her and her dad. Unexpectedly, her dad rose from the wheelchair and, leaning on a walker, made it down the aisle with her.

"As soon as he stood up, I started crying," she said. "Everybody started crying."

Eldon saw his daughter married on Jan. 4. He died Jan. 8.

And while it wasn't the wedding she'd planned, it was still a dream come true.

"It couldn't have gone any better," she said.