A week ago, six-year-old John Hawes ran into his father’s arms and America’s heart. In that moment, an ordinary sailor serving his country and the wife and child who had stayed behind put a face on the war in Iraq.
“I’m really surprised. I definitely wasn’t expecting it to get this big,” Petty Officer Bill Hawes told Matt Lauer.
John Hawes was still in his dad’s arms as the family — Bill, John and wife Julie — told TODAY what it’s been like since that emotional reunion in John’s kindergarten classroom in Central Elementary School near Seattle.
The scene itself has been played out privately tens of thousands of times as mothers and fathers return from Iraq to be reunited with their families. As Lauer observed, more than half of the men and women serving in Iraq are parents.
It was Bill’s idea to surprise John at school. His class had been sending the Bill letters and care packages since September, when he deployed to Iraq.
Someone had tipped off a Seattle television station about the surprise, and the resulting video tugged at the nation’s heartstrings.
“We don’t know how they got the tip,” Julie Hawes told Lauer. “We’re still trying to figure that out. “All we know is they showed up, and we were just at the right place at the right time.”
The video has been viewed more than half a million times on TODAYShow.com and another 200,000 on YouTube. When the folks at Disneyland saw it, they invited the family down to California for a red-carpet visit to the Magic Kingdom.
It’s all been a little hard to process for Hawes. “I’m still getting used to it,” he said.
Lauer asked Julie Hawes if she had any advice for other families waiting for the return of a loved one.
“Bear with the military,” she said. “It’s just a part of life when you’re part of the military, and it will be over soon and you’ll have your loved one home.”
John sat quietly on his father’s knee until it was his turn to describe what it was like for him. He knew the question was coming, but took a moment for him to consider what to say.
“It was happy,” he concluded shyly, then leaned back to press his head against his father’s chest.