Students at Portage Park Elementary, the three siblings have been missing their dad, Michael Melone, since his deployment to Bahrain last spring.
“It’s been hard,” said Michael, a Technical Sergeant in the Air National Guard. “I’ve never been away for this long. I missed all three of their birthdays, and my wife’s, and more than that, it was rough not being around to help them work through the ordinary issues that come up.”
Michael arrived in the U.S. late Sunday, but did not immediately see his children. Instead, he and his wife Jeanette masterminded a surprise reunion for the family at school. Their relationship with Portage Park is deeply personal, as Michael and his siblings also attended this CPS school, and their mother worked there for years as a teacher’s aide.
“It was killing me being home and not seeing the kids,” said Michael, “But we thought surprising them at school would create a great memory.”
The surprise was a two-part event, with Michael stopping first at the 2nd-grade classroom of his son, Gavin. He entered a very quiet room, as the children were engaged in silent reading time. The moment Gavin saw his father, though, the silence was over.
“He kept asking, is this a dream, over and over again,” said Jeanette Melone. “A couple of nights ago, he’d had a dream that his dad was home, so I think he wondered if it was even real.”
Michael’s next stop was the cafeteria, where daughters Kira and Ella were having what they thought would be a typical Tuesday lunch. Both girls came running when they saw their dad, and the entire Portage Park lunchroom erupted with cheers, applause, and a standing ovation for their alumni soldier.
After thanking the teachers and staff who had helped support them during deployment, the entire Melone family departed Portage Park to spend the remainder of the day together.
“It’s amazing the things you take for granted until you’re not here to experience them,” said Michael. “I’ve missed seeing their smiles and kissing them good night, and just being around them every day, even when they’re acting like pains. “I’m looking forward to getting back in our routine and having them know I’m here.”
To see a video of the family reunion at Portage Park, click here.