The video needed no setup, no explanation. A man in Army fatigues enters an elementary school classroom, and from the corner of the frame comes the blur of a small boy rushing at the soldier accompanied by a shriek of sudden joy: “Daaaad!”
The soldier was U.S. Army Lt. Thomas Bourne. The 8-year-old boy who leaped in his arms and stuck to him like a tree frog was his son, Preston. The setting was Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Louisa, Va., where Bourne had a similarly emotional reunion with his other son, 5-year-old Walker.
And there to record the surprise homecoming last Monday was an NBC camera crew.
Bourne’s wife, Amy, told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Thursday that she was behind the surprise. She had been planning it for a couple of weeks, ever since he contacted her to say his number had come up a couple of months earlier than expected for a two-week R&R — rest and recuperation.
She could have told the kids, who hadn’t seen their father in the five months since he’d been posted to Iraq, and pumped them up for the visit, but didn’t want to disappoint them if there was a delay.
“I kept it quiet because with R&R, you never know; the dates will change,” she told Lauer. “I didn’t want to let everybody down by giving them one date and then have it change.”
It wasn’t easy keeping that kind of a secret. “It was very hard keeping it quiet, especially from the boys and from his family and mine, as well.”
But the reaction of her boys showed that it was worth it.
Preston wouldn’t climb down from his father’s arms, fighting tears of joy to introduce his dad the soldier to his classmates.
“Everybody, this is my daddy,” he said. “I never thought he would come. I missed him very much. I can’t believe he’s here.”
Bourne greeted Walker in the hallway outside his classroom. As he hugged his dad, he saw his mother dabbing at her eyes as she watched the scene.
“Why’s Mommy crying?” he asked.
“Cuz she’s happy,” Bourne laughed.
Bourne, a teacher for 15 years in the same school system his sons attend, had joined the reserves after the 9/11 terror attacks at the age of 32. This is his first overseas deployment, and when he returns after Thanksgiving, he’ll have seven more months to serve.
In the five months that he’s been away, Walker has learned to read and write and Preston has lost a tooth and gone through a growth spurt.
The family’s story is typical of thousands of others, but most are never brought home to the nation because they never make the evening news. Seeing this one and talking to the family in the TODAY studio had co-host Meredith Vieira dabbing at her eyes, too.
Preston brought a well-hugged stuffed Tigger with him to New York.
“I was very, very shocked,” he told Lauer. “I didn’t know what to do.”
“You’ve got a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving,” Lauer told the family.
“Very much so,” Bourne agreed.
From the end of the couch came Walker’s voice: “What about Christmas?”