TODAY

TODAY   |  December 26, 2013

Soldier son is mom’s secret Santa

Leslie Ruggiero received the best Christmas gift a mother could ask for when her son Travis, a U.S. soldier currently stationed in Afghanistan, made a surprise visit home on Christmas Eve.

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

>> touching moment that gives new meaning to the term secret santa . take a look.

>> reporter: for families like the rogiero's christmas can be the hardest day. mother leslie is a nurse in new jersey. her son travis stationed 67,000 miles away in afghanistan for six months unable to make it home for the holidays . so what does it say?

>> so christmas eve when leslie 's co-workers at ocean medical center surprised her with a letter from her son.

>> where is it from?

>> from --

>> where is he?

>> afghanistan.

>> she still didn't realize her biggest christmas surprise was yet to come. [ applause [ applause ]

>> and leslie is with us along with her son travis, good morning to both of you.

>> good morning.

>> leslie you are still crying this morning?

>> yes, still.

>> take us back to that moment. because here you get this card from your son. we were all in tears. how did you feel when you turned around and there he was.

>> it started off as such an uneventful day, the holiday season , then it's just amazing how just one little incident can change your life. your day forever and i'm still in awe of that.

>> let's talk about that. how did you pull this off? your town is not so big, you were in town a few days basically laying low.

>> my two cousins were a big help and i stayed at my cousin brandons. those were the only two that really knew and my son and myself. we had a couple close calls, you know, but we were able to keep the secret.

>> you ran into people you knew?

>> i was in town for maybe 15 minutes and i was already on my way and my aunt was in the parking lot. i saw her, kept on driving, even texted my cousin. i just saw your mom. i have been in town 15 minutes , i'm seeing family. maybe i'm paranoid because i was so close. so even at the major intersections, looking around, you know, seeing what cars look familiar.

>> well, you really pulled it off. you rented the santa suit yourself, right?

>> yes.

>> you did deliver candy and gifts to the kids after all of the was over?

>> i did. i did. me and a grandgot together and put together about 50 grab bags, you know, cookies, candies, candy canes , you know, so after everyone left, we made our trip around the hospital hasing them out to patients and nursing staff.

>> leslie , you have a good son here. i know it must be tough to have him overseas. i know christ smas a specialty. what did it money to you to have him home?

>> it meant a everything. we have a supportive family. a big family. it gets bigger and bigger. i'm sure it will be different for me because in a time of such joy, it's also a time to reflect on those less fortunate and the soldiers serving abroad especially my son and you know i was just saying. it's just not the same. he's always, he's been away from home for years, but always made that effort to be the family for christmas .