When students return to classes after the holiday break, they often share their vacation highlights and surprises. For one student at Varner Elementary School, his biggest surprise came before the holiday break even started when his hero stepped into the Varner school cafeteria in combat boots and a Santa hat.
At first, the Varner students erupted into cheers at the sight of Ol’ Saint Nick, but third-grader Matthew knew there was something different about the man behind the white beard. He recognized the eyes.
“I have seen [those] my whole life,” Matthew said.
As soon as he recognized that it was his soldier dad dressed as Santa, he leaped from his seat and ran to his dad to give him a hug. He hadn’t seen his dad, U.S. Army PFC Jonathan Villela, in three months and wasn’t expecting to see him until closer to Christmas Day.
To see his dad—that was Matthew’s Christmas wish, a wish come true.
“I’m so happy that he is back. It has been such a long time since I have seen him,” the excited third grader said as he beamed up at his soldier dad.
The soldier’s homecoming didn’t just have his family in tears, the Varner teachers were wiping away tears as they watched the family unite. One of them had even loaned PFC Villela the Santa costume so he could surprise his son. The teachers were Santa’s sneaky elves as they set up everything.
“It has been very long, and I’m very thankful,” the Varner dad said hugging his son Matthew and preschooler Emma who was also happy to have her dad home.
PFC Villela, who is in the Georgia Army National Guard, was able to spend the holidays with his family prior to returning to training in Missouri.
Before leaving, he planned to soak up time with his family.
Matthew was looking forward to filling in his dad on all the things he has been doing and his goals for the future.
“We have fun answering each other’s questions,” Matthew explained.
Matthew, like his classmates, has returned to school. His dad is off for more military training, but Matthew has the next military homecoming to look forward to, and for now, he can write down all the questions he wants to ask his dad when they see each other again.