Angel and Savannah Valdez cried Monday afternoon as they sat on the floor of the gym at Glen Oaks School in Hickory Hills.
Their stepfather, Army Spc. Vincenzo Volpe, away in Afghanistan for the past year, was appearing on a big screen for a video conference with them and their fellow students.
They all had been told they would participate in a video conference with a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, but they hadn’t been told it would be Volpe.
Whatever overwhelming emotions Angel and Savannah were feeling would intensify shortly thereafter, as a much bigger surprise was in store for them.
Moments after the assembly ended and students returned to their classrooms, Volpe walked into Savannah’s classroom and embraced his stepdaughter, a third-grader.
“It’s me,” said Volpe, a native of Chicago’s Bridgeport community. “Don’t cry.”
But Savannah continued to cry tears of joy, as did many of her classmates.
Volpe explained to his daughter that he had been in the school’s main office for the video conference.
Next, he left her classroom, walked down the hall and surprised his stepson, a fifth grader.
Like his sister, Angel was shocked to see Volpe walk into the classroom. He placed his head on his desk and cried until Volpe walked to the back of the room and embraced him.
“You got punked,” Volpe kidded Angel.
“I’m surprised, very surprised,” Angel said. “I’m so glad that he’s here for me.”
Angel’s classmates joined him in shedding tears of joy.
“I was happy for Angel,” Pete Corasis said. “I felt like I was going to cry.”
“Oh, my God, this is so exciting,” William Shufflebarger said.
Volpe got home Saturday, but his children had been told he would not return until this Friday.
Their mother, June, was in on the hoax and even comforted the kids when they first saw it was their stepfather on the video conference call.
Volpe, who regularly Skypes with his wife and children, said nothing can replace holding his children in his arms.
“It’s nothing like wrapping your arms around them. I can’t explain it. It was so much happiness, joy and relief,” said Volpe, a member of the 170st Infantry Brigade.
After a month of leave, Volpe is to be stationed in Germany for two months and then return to the United States to continue his service.
Welcome home Spc. Volpe. A very Merry Christmas to you and your family.............