His reaction was priceless
DERRY, Maine–Staff Sergeant Mike Hollis knew he wanted to make his homecoming special for his four-year old son, Tanner. The 29-year old Hollis was scheduled to finish a year-long tour in Afghanistan and return to his family next month, but he arranged an earlier release date, and started planning an elaborate surprise for Tanner.
“I had seen all these great homecomings, where the wife will throw out the first pitch and her husband will secretly be wearing the catcher’s mask, but I wanted this to be the best one ever,” Hollis explains, “So I thought, ‘What if Tanner thinks I’m never coming back at all?'”
So Hollis, with the help of his superiors, concocted a story in which he was killed in action in a firefight, and a military funeral was planned.
“Tracy, my wife, didn’t even know,” Hollis laughs, “She was literally speechless. Still is.”
At the end of the service, the casket was opened to reveal Hollis, who struggled not to crack a smile. As his wife led his sobbing son to what both believed would be a final look at their heroic husband and father, tragedy suddenly turned to joy as Hollis sprang from the casket.
“It was tremendously heartwarming,” Hollis recalls, “People were crying and some were screaming. A couple of women even fainted. Tanner was so overcome by emotion, I think he became a little catatonic. I think he looks at his dad a little differently now.”