Four-year-old Rileigh Buetow and her 2-year-old brother, Austin, were jumping up and down and waving goodbye to their dad as he left on his first Naval deployment last week on the USS Carl Vinson.
As they stood on a rocky perch and the aircraft carrier moved past them, a San Diego policeman who remembers what it’s like to have a Navy dad away for work offered a helping hand. Officer James Weaver invited the youngsters to amplify their farewells to their dad, Petty Officer 1st Class Josh Buetow, through his police car’s public address system.
“Austin didn’t talk, but Rileigh was all for it,” their mom, Brettany Buetow, told TODAY. “She yelled out ‘Bye Daddy. I love you Daddy.’”
The simple, unexpected gesture made the heartbreaking goodbye memorable for the family, and brought a measure of comfort to Brettany Buetow.
“Even though it’s such a small thing, it meant the world to me and the world to the kids,” Buetow said. “He wanted to make the kids happy, and give them one last chance to be heard.”
“It was a very tough moment; those are our final goodbyes,” she added. “It was really touching and special for us.”
The Buetows, who are both 28 and also have a 3-month-old son, Ryder, have known about the deployment for a year. “We knew when it was going to happen, but having the new baby and the kids being so small, it was nerve-wracking and obviously sad, too,” Brettany Buetow said.
On Wednesday, the family said their goodbyes to Josh, who will be home in the summer. “It was emotional and it was really hard for him to say goodbye to the kids,” she said. “I know I can handle it and I’ll be fine, but knowing they don’t quite understand (how long their dad will be gone) made it rough.”
On Thursday morning, she took her children to San Diego’s Shelter Island to watch the ship depart. Weaver’s kindness helped lighten the mood, Brettany says. “It turned a negative situation into something happy and gave us something to smile about,” she said.
When Weaver arrived in the area on routine patrol, he saw the Buetow kids yelling to their dad.
“I figured there’s no way he’s going to hear their voices at least 50 yards away,” he said. “I thought I’d give them a chance to be louder and give their voices a chance to be heard by their dad.”
Weaver, whose own children are 6 and 4, grew up with a Navy dad who was deployed for six months at a time.
“It’s hard because, especially when you’re younger, you don’t realize what’s going on,” he said. “All the sudden, Dad’s gone.”
“I know what it’s like to not have your dad there,” Weaver said. “With two little kids of my own, I can see how hard it is on the other side, being the parent.”
Brettany Buetow, who thanked the police on Facebook, says Weaver's kindness made things more emotional for her.
“I had held it together really well until they started saying goodbye, and the tears just started,” she says. “He didn’t have to do that. It was really kind of him to pull up and try to make it special.”
It’s a reminder, she feels, that there are still good things happening today.
“I want people to know there is so much positive stuff going on in the world,” she said. “You have to stop looking at everything negative and see the positive.”
As for her husband, Brettany Buetow knew he would not be out on deck as the carrier pulled away from shore. But her kids? “As far as they know,” she said, “he heard them.”
TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter: @lisaflam