Two New Jersey students had an emotional reunion with their older brother after he returned home from the military and surprised them just in time for Christmas.
Mark DiTizio never suspected that his Christmas wish would come true while he was performing a holiday concert at Atrium Post Acute Care of Woodbury on Wednesday.
Standing in front of his 6th-grade classmates and the audience at the senior center, Mark, 11, said in a video captured by NBC affiliate WCAU, “All I want for Christmas is to see my brother who’s in the United States military.”
As he walked away from the microphone, Private Second Class Eric Shaw entered the room wearing his army fatigues and surprised his unsuspecting younger brother.
“I’m right here!” Eric said, prompting Mark to leap into his arms and burst into tears.
The emotional moment was especially moving as it was the first time that Eric had returned home in seven months and came just a week before Christmas, for which Eric had told his family he would not be returning home.
Mom Nicole DiTizio was in on the surprise and made sure to throw off the family by sending a fake care package with cookies to Eric ahead of the holidays.
“For weeks, my parents have been asking, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ And I kept saying each and every single time, ‘I want to see my brother,'” Mark told CBS affiliate KYW-TV. “Until a day ago, they said, ‘So you are sticking to your word?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And today he’s here.”
“When I did my thing, I looked behind me and I saw boots. I’m like, [it’s] probably a retired veteran and then I heard, ‘I am here,’ and then just tears,” Mark added of the sweet surprise to WCAU. “I see him and I just jump into him…”
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Mark wasn’t the only one that Eric wanted to surprise. The Arizona-based soldier also showed up to his younger sister Rachel’s school, dressed in a Santa suit, to surprise the teen. Like Mark, she had no idea that her brother would be coming home.
“He tried telling all of us he’s not gonna be home, he didn’t get approved for leave, and then he showed up today and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! You lied to me the whole time!'” she told WCAU.
For the surprise at Atrium Post Acute Care, Nicole said she helped orchestrate it since she is friends with one of their employees.
“I’ve always told my kids the best gift you can give someone is your time,” she shared with KYW-TV. “We’ve had a lot of losses in the family. We have realized the best [gift] you can give someone is time and make a memory. Rather than give them a present, take them out and do something with them, give them an experience. So that had a lot to do with our mentality going into this.”
And for Eric, coming home for Christmas to be with his family was a no-brainer.
“Family is everything,” he explained to the outlet. “Happiness and family are reasons to wake up in the morning. It’s an amazing feeling, I’m trying to get used to [being home] again.”
Now back in New Jersey for 17 days, his family looks forward to spending time with the soldier and enjoying the holidays together.
“I just want to spend time with him because I haven’t in a while and I’ve missed you coming down the stairs,” Mark told WCAU, getting choked up.
“It is the best, it absolutely is, but having him there Christmas morning will be even better,” added Nicole.