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Army Dad's Return Grants Son's Christmas Wish

Sgt. John Rivera surprised his sixth-grade son, Dominic, during a Central Middle School assembly Friday. Watch the touching reunion.

U.S. Army Sgt. John Rivera surprises his son, Dominic, during a Central Middle School assembly Dec. 20. | Credit: Joe Vince
U.S. Army Sgt. John Rivera surprises his son, Dominic, during a Central Middle School assembly Dec. 20. | Credit: Joe Vince


All Dominic Rivera wanted for Christmas was his father, an Army sergeant, to come home from Afghanistan.

That's what he told his mom, Janet, and that's what he wrote in a letter to Santa. In fact, the Central Middle School sixth-grader said he was willing to give away all his toys and stop antagonizing his brother—even when he deserved it—to make a holiday reunion happen. That's the kind of bargaining and self-sacrifice kids with military parents overseas think about when they miss Mom or Dad.

So when Dominic's dad, John, surprised his son during a school assembly Friday afternoon, the 11-year-old had his Christmas wish come true. The two hugged—along with Janet and Dominic's 5-year-old brother, Brycen—as students cheered, "USA!"

"It's touching, very touching for everyone around [who helped organize the surprise]," said Janet Rivera, who worked with Principal Randy Fortin to plan this reunion. "And for the kids to see John. … They're speechless."

"I just got home on Monday, back in the States, and I couldn't wait to see these two," John said as he rubbed Dominic's head after the surprise. "It's very exciting [to be home for Christmas]. I missed Christmas last year because I was in Korea. This year, I wasn't sure if I would make it back because I was in Afghanistan. Luckily, the cards fell into place."

John Rivera has been serving in Afghanistan since May, the last time he saw his family. Before that, he served for three years in South Korea. Rivera will be home for two weeks before deploying back to Afghanistan.

"Dominic is a very caring, witty young man, " said Fortin, who has a brother in the Air Force and a brother-in-law in the Army National Guard and knows what it's like when family has military commitments. "My brother serves, and he's had to miss some family functions. And my brother-in-law has had to be deployed. It was a no-brainer for us to do this. … Janet allowed us to be creative to make this day special."

Besides the assembly surprise, the school also worked with local businesses to put together a gift basket for the family. Dave and Busters donated a free night for the family to have dinner and play games, and Extreme Trampoline and Marcus Orland Park Cinemas also donated gift cards and items, Fortin said.

Watch the video of the reunion.
Linda Zec December 20, 2013 at 06:34 PM
Another great job by the Patch!
Lisa Simmons December 20, 2013 at 06:37 PM
So sweet i was crying
Jenny December 20, 2013 at 11:09 PM
Janet is a patient of ours. Such a nice woman and I'm so thrilled to see her boys got the best present ever!
Danica Ridgway Hand December 21, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Great story!! Never gets old!
JOHN WOZNIAK December 21, 2013 at 11:23 PM
SEEMS LIKE I HAVE SEEN THIS BEFORE, HOW MANY TIMES I CAN'T REMEMBER.
Jimmy Wang December 22, 2013 at 09:49 AM
Hey Wozniak, good for you, jerk.
THE FABULOUS JOHNNY G. December 22, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Sgt. John Rivera thank you for what you do and all the men like you!

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