2014-12-25 / Front Page

Christmas Surprise: Dad Comes Home

By Erich T. Doerr

U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Love with his son, J.J., Friday, December 19, at a school party. All J.J. wanted for Christmas this year was to see his father. U.S. Army Sgt. Joseph Love with his son, J.J., Friday, December 19, at a school party. All J.J. wanted for Christmas this year was to see his father. J.J. Love, 8, got the greatest Christmas surprise of his life Thursday, December 18, when his father, Joseph, a sergeant in the United States Army, made an unannounced appearance at the end of the Christmas music program at Engadine Consolidated Schools. Sgt. Love is serving at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, South Korea, but he made it home for the first time in 10 months on a holiday leave.

“I loved the surprise,” J.J. said the next day. “That was the only thing on my Christmas list.”

While J.J. wished for his father to be home, he was surprised when Sgt. Love walked in the room Thursday. The rest of the Love family learned in late November he would be coming home, and worked with elementary school Principal Kendra Feldhusen to organize the surprise reunion.

Sgt. Love’s entrance at the program was Mrs. Feldhusen’s idea and it took three weeks of planning.

The final decision to go ahead with it wasn’t made until it was assured that Sgt. Love’s return would not be delayed. Even so, his wife, Felicia, said he almost didn’t make it Thursday after a last-minute change of plans meant he arrived in Detroit instead of Marquette, but she was able to pick him up.

“Who wouldn’t want to be part of a homecoming like this?” Mrs. Feldhusen asked. “It was the chance of a lifetime.”

At the end of the music program, Mrs. Feldhusen called J.J. up to the stage, explaining his situation to the audience and the importance of his father’s work, and then announced that Sgt. Love had written him a letter that she then read aloud. J.J. had been told about the letter in advance.

“I know you think this is just another Christmas daddy is going to miss, but it’s not,” Sgt. Love wrote. “What daddy is doing is helping other kids have Christmas. I always tell you when daddy leaves it is for a good reason and this time I’m gone helping families so they have homes, food, and safety.”

The letter ended with a special note from Sgt. Love, adding that he knew J.J. had been a very good boy this year. Then he made his entrance. Applause and tears of joy from J.J. and the crowd accompanied his appearance.

J.J. “started crying just at getting the letter,” Mrs. Feldhusen said, recalling the high emotion of the moment.

Mrs. Feldhusen admitted it was far from easy for school staff to keep Sgt. Love’s arrival a secret from J.J., especially earlier this week to lift his spirits during some parent and holiday classroom activities.

Also in the family is 18-year-old daughter, Jordanna and 1-year-old son, Blake. The family’s holiday plans include a traditional celebration and dinner with their relatives. Sgt. Love’s leave will allow him to celebrate New Year’s Eve with his family before he returns to South Korea to finish his deployment.

The day after his return home, the family helped with a Christmas celebration with J.J. at his school, then travelled to Brimley to watch Jordanna play in a basketball game.

“It’s more family,” Jordanna said. “We’ll add to the craziness. I’m just happy to have him home.”

“It feels great to be back,” Sgt. Love said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

Joseph Love grew up in Compton, California, and had a youthful ambition to join the military and move beyond his hometown. He previously served three tours as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His military work has kept him away from home for 37 months since 2007. When gone, the family keeps in touch by online messaging and video chat programs. Sgt. Love said he thinks about his family every day while overseas.

“It’s like having a virtual husband sometimes,” Mrs. Love said, adding that it is great to have him home for the holidays.

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