Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Soldier homecoming videos never grow old

April 11, 2014 

We all get that life can be sad and full of disappointment, but one thing's for sure: Nothing makes us feel better than watching a surprise soldier homecoming.

On Wednesday, Sgt. 1st Class Donnie Hendricks returned from a yearlong deployment to South Korea and surprised his two daughters at their Phenix City schools.

You can go to ledger-enquirer.com and watch the video. I showed it to my children because six years ago Hendricks' wife, Diana, taught one of my sons at Blanchard Elementary School. We remember her as tough, funny and incredibly well-organized, and especially enthusiastic and encouraging in good times and bad.

In other words, a model elementary teacher and military spouse, and the right person to help her husband orchestrate a surprise homecoming at their daughters' schools.

We watched the video several times and passed around the Kleenex -- and then we went to YouTube and watched more soldier homecomings.

There's no shortage.

In many of them, the family stands on the field at a Major League Baseball game or other sporting event while the soldier/parent -- usually Dad -- delivers a recorded message on the Jumbotron, then jogs onto the field to wild applause.

Variations include movie theaters -- one father surprised his daughters during a showing of "The Lion King" -- and country music concerts.

You can also watch soldiers make special appearances at their children's proms, graduations, music recitals, photo shoots, volleyball tournaments and karate matches.

One dad even strode onto the spelling bee stage right after his daughter correctly spelled the word "sergeant."

Many of the surprises involve a disguise. Fathers returning from war have revealed themselves after removing their catcher's mask, scuba gear, Santa's beard, mascot's head and Power Ranger helmet.

Or after their children opened up presents with them wrapped inside.

One dad even stepped out of the marching band formation during a college football game.

Another donned the uniform of the opposing high school football team and surprised his son at midfield during the pregame coin toss.

My favorite? When dad joins the opposing paintball team and mows down the entire family before revealing his identity.

"No fair! That guy shoots like a trained sniper!"

On Wednesday, Donnie Hendricks didn't get too fancy. In the morning, he walked into the classroom of his 5-year-old daughter, Emily, and then read to her class. In the afternoon, his 8-year-old daughter, Lizzie, was intentionally skipped during awards day so that her father could surprise her with flowers and a balloon at the end of the ceremony.

But the results were the same: The girls sobbed uncontrollably, same as the 18-year-old linebacker and the warriors at the paintball tournament.

Of course, Dad was crying, too. Donnie Hendricks called the moment "vindication," a sign that "the route that I chose in life was the right one."

"Sometimes you second guess," he said. "Am I where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing? Especially when the elements get hard. And then to come back and see the smile on their face."

It makes all of us smile through our tears, and we need that.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com.

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