HOUSTON, Texas — With the students of Holy Family Catholic School in Galveston chanting “USA, USA” at an assembly to honor the military, firefighters and police, 3-year-old Elliott Claire entered the gymnasium to an unexpected surprise.
Her father, Navy Petty Officer Sean Claire, has served back-to-back tours on the USS John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf as an aviation technician. He’s been on tour for more than eight months, nearly a quarter of his daughter’s life.
But as students and staff at the school honored local officers and members of the military, Sean Claire entered through a side door and sat two rows behind his daughter.
A teacher led the little girl to her surprise and for a few moments she stood stunned. But then Elliott reached up to hug her dad around the neck for the first time in 32 weeks.
“Are you out of the Navy?” she asked him.
“I’m not out, I just came back to see you,” he answered. “Are you happy?”
Elliott had a more important question.
“Are you done with your work?” she asked.
“I am done with work for a little while,” he said.
Elliott laughed, kissed her dad and said, “Daddy...you’re silly.”
“Did you miss me?” she asked.
“I missed you a lot,” he said.
“I’m just really glad to have him home. I’m in shock,” said his wife Marci while holding their 1-year-old daughter Piper.
“I was trying not to cry and trying not to grab her before they told me, ‘OK, she can turn around and see you now,’” Sean Claire said.
“Daddy you’re the best,” Elliott said while hugging her dad again.
“You’re the best,” Sean Claire laughed as his thankful daughter repeated that phrase over and over again.
So what is first on a 3-year-old’s list when her dad comes home after eight months at sea?
“Let’s play ball today,” Elliott said.
“You wanna play ball today? Let’s go play ball today. Can I change? Can I put on play clothes?” he asked his daughter.
Elliott nodded yes and promptly took her daddy home.