Parents

'A dream come true': Overjoyed girl and Army dad reunite in surprise at the zoo

Since her dad’s military deployment began in October, 12-year-old Kristi Flury has been missing him like crazy, crying on her birthday and at her cheer competitions because it felt like a part of her was missing.

So when her mom fulfilled her wish for a surprise reunion with her dad, which came during the dolphin show at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago last week, Kristi took off running and joyfully leaped into his arms. As they embraced, the rest of the world seemed to slip away during the teary reunion that brought a cheering crowd to its feet.

“I just jumped into his arms and it was just me and him and nothing else was around me,” Kristi told TODAY. “It was awesome. I felt like a piece of me was back.”

Chicago Zoological Society
And she's off! Kristi Flury runs toward her dad, a captain in the Army Reserve who had been deployed overseas, in an emotional, surprise reunion at the Brookfield Zoo last week.

“As soon as she saw me, she nudged her mom out of the way, came running and she was full sprint,” said her dad, Josh Flury, a captain in the United States Army Reserve. “As she jumped, she was in my arms and she was squeezing and I was squeezing. It was euphoric.”

Chicago Zoological Society
Can't stop squeezing! As her mom, April Flury, looks on, Kristi Flury hugs her dad in an emotional reunion at Brookfield Zoo last week after he returned home from a military deployment earlier than expected.

Kristi’s mom, April Flury, had arranged for her and her daughter to be chosen as volunteers during the dolphin show just before the big dad reveal. Josh was nervous as he waited backstage. But everything changed when his name was announced and he saw the wide-eyed look on Kristi’s face.

“As soon as I saw her, I forgot everything was around me,” said Flury, 36. “The crowd disappeared, the pool disappeared. It was just me and her, and it’s difficult to describe, but it’s probably the best feeling a person can have after nine months of not seeing someone they love.”

In his dress uniform, including leather shoes with no traction, the 6-foot-2 Flury braced himself to keep from falling.

Chicago Zoological Society
Capt. Josh Flury had to brace himself to keep from falling as his daughter ran to him at full speed and jumped up into his arms in a tearful reunion.

“It felt like she hit me with a ton of bricks,” he said, adding that the shoulder boards on his uniform fell off in the commotion. “It was joy, excitement and everything rolled into one.”

April and Josh Flury, who divorced when their only child was 8, say they co-parent very well together. April arranged the surprise for her daughter “because of the nights that she would cry herself to sleep missing him” on holidays, her birthday and when she made the honor roll.

“Even though she missed out on those other important memories, this to me was one way that I could make sure they would have a day they would never forget, and give them a memory that would last a lifetime,” she said.

Kristi had been sad that her dad’s deployment to Kuwait had been extended to Aug. 15, the day before she starts seventh grade. But after April learned that the extension was canceled and he would return at the end of July, she arranged for the zoo reunion on Aug. 3.

“For him to get back early was a blessing,” April Flury said. “They have been spending every waking moment together since that surprise at the zoo.”

Kristi had thought that she and her mom were having a regular mother-daughter day.

“That she would have my dad come home on my favorite show, it was just awesome,” Kristi said. “It was like a dream come true.”

Chicago Zoological Society
"It was like a dream come true," says Kristi Flury, of getting to see her dad again after his deployment at her favorite dolphin show.

She said she has seen other military families be reunited in videotaped surprises, and said she wanted one too. “The way she did it was just awesome, and I love her for that,” Kristi said of her mom.

Josh Flury, who coordinates construction projects as a reservist, had also been deployed with the Army to Afghanistan in 2012-2013, and to Japan in 1999-2000 when he was a Marine. For Flury, generally a low-key guy, this homecoming was unlike the others.

“It was extra special for me because I wasn’t expecting all the hoopla, but to experience that, it was pretty incredible. She did an amazing job,” Flury said of his former wife. “In 18 years of service, that’s probably the nicest thing anyone has done for me.”

TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyle reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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