CROWNSVILLE, Md. — Millersville Elementary School third grader Eben Pardue got a special surprise with his lunch Wed., Dec. 13.
His father, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Thomas Pardue, was home after a year in South Korea. Eben was unpacking his lunch when his dad walked into the school’s cafeteria.
“Dad?” the 9-year-old said, before his father lifted him out of his seat and into a big hug.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” Pardue said.
He left for South Korea on Dec. 11 last year — two weeks before Christmas. This year he missed the chance to pick out a Christmas tree from a local farm with his son and his wife, Susan. But he’s home in time for Christmas.
“Last Christmas was probably the worst we’ve had,” he said. “Which makes this one the best.”
Eben didn’t finish his Lunchable. Instead the family went out to get lunch at Lures, and later Eben said he’ll probably play video games with his dad.
Eben expected his father to be home Monday, so the visit to the elementary school’s cafeteria Wednesday was a surprise. He already told his mother that if dad came back on a school day he was willing to stay home.
Mom came up with the idea to surprise Eben at lunch.
“It’s really important to me that families are happy and that my students are happy,” said school principal Isaphine Smith. “So when Mrs. Pardue reached out and told me that her husband was coming home, we brainstormed options to really make this a special day for Eben.”
Pardue has served 22 years in the Army and was stationed in South Korea for a year working in military intelligence. He and his son spoke every day using FaceTime. Eben worried about what he saw in the news from the region.
“I would try to reassure him that they sort of blow things out of proportion sometimes, and that our job was to know what was really going on and what was just rhetoric, and that everything was stable, and I was still safe, and that everything would be fine,” he said.
There was also a 14-hour time difference between South Korea and Crownsville.
“I was a.m. and you were p.m.,” Eben said.
Thomas will be stationed at nearby Fort Meade for the next three years.
“It’s nice to have him home. I need a little rest. It’ll be great,” Susan said. “And he needs his dad; it’s been a long time.”
One of the things the family has missed eating barbecue ribs together.
“We actually haven’t had any ribs without you, just so you know,” Eben said.
Eben also missed playing with his dad. With his own friends, he likes to play Army games, he said. He’s always Sergeant Major, which outranks his dad.
“I’m a fan of the Army,” Eben said.
His grandfather has given him Army hats.
“Can you say, ‘Go Army, Beat Navy?’ ” father asked his son.
“Go Army, Beat Navy,” Eben said.
And they did that Saturday.