RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — The world returned to normal for one little boy playing chase with his buddy on a carefree Friday afternoon.
When Ms. Johnson rang the bell, signaling that recess was over, Luke Ross and the other first-graders at Lake Carolina Elementary climbed down from the playground equipment and tossed balls aside to line up.
Then, from around a corner, came a tall man in camouflage with a big grin on his face.
“Dad!” Luke yelled.
He broke out of line to hold tight to a man missing from his life for five months.
Tech. Sgt. Matthew Ross, one of about 1,200 local soldiers and airmen deployed overseas, had just flown in on leave from Qatar. His wife, Amy, managed to get him to the Northeast Richland school in time for the surprise.
While his Dad was gone, the chatty 6-year-old enrolled at a brand new school, started making friends and began to read and write.
He’s been planning for the time he could show his Dad the skill he’s developed at “LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga.”
“He wants his Daddy to see him play it, and show him how many levels he can get,” said Amy Ross, 32. “He thinks that will mean the world to his Dad.”
While they were apart, the family talked by computer.
One night Ross even read a book to his son. (“Thank you, technology!”)
Still, it wasn’t the same.
For the next four weeks, Luke can play football with his Dad, build things and wrestle.
“You have grown,” Luke’s Dad said as the reunited family made their way back into the school.
“Guess what?” A girl named Kendra knew what was coming. “We made something for the military man.”
Taped in the hallway was a WELCOME HOME poster signed by the students in Ms. Johnson’s class.
Kids pushed past each other to show Ross which of the printed names were theirs.
The family had their picture taken in front of the poster.
“Thank you all for signing it,” Ross said, handing Luke his Angry Birds backpack.
Things in the first-grade hall were beginning to settle down, but Luke had just one request for his teacher – one thing that could make the weekend even better.
“Can I take extra days off after Saturday and Sunday?”
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.