OUTSIDE CHICAGO, IL --When the lured Diana Cornejo with the promise of filming a video to send to her husband in Afghanistan, she thought it would be wonderful if he stepped into the room and surprised her.
“I never get surprises,” she said. “He was going to see the video so I was excited by that.”
Army Staff Sgt. Luis Aponte Fontanez wasn’t due home until next month. Diana, who says she never gets surprises, was in the middle of filming her “message” when Luis entered the room carrying a dozen roses on Saturday.
Running into his arms, Diana hugged Luis around his neck.
“Were you surprised?” he asked.
Wiping away tears of joy, Diana watched their children line up for hugs from their dad, whom they haven’t seen for four months.
“You all look good,” Luis said.
Jacqueline Canty, special recreation coordinator for the park district arranged the surprise at the . Canty met Luis when he joined a veterans’ fitness program through the park district. He had already served a 15-month tour in Iraq with the Army National Guard five years ago when he got the second call up last fall.
“We stayed in contact with him and sent him care packages from the park district,” Canty said. “He let me know by email that he was coming home early. His orders got cut short and his whole platoon came home.”
Luis arrived in Fort Lewis, TX, on April 27. He restrained himself from calling his family to let them know he had safely arrived in the United States. He told Canty that he wanted to surprise his wife.
“Jacqueline suggested it. She was pretty convincing,” Luis said. “I was anxious to call the family but I figured the surprise would be worth it.”
Canty was the only person who knew that Luis was in the United States. She picked him from Midway Airport on Saturday afternoon and stashed him in the preschool room at the Oak View Center.
Told that Patch was filming videos for local residents to send to deployed loved ones, Diana and six of the couple’s seven children showed up at the Oak View Center on Saturday.
“He told me he wasn’t going to call me for two weeks because he was going on a mission,” Diana said. “Every day, I was worried. More than any other week, this past week has been difficult.”
The couple has been married for five years and lives in Hometown with their blended family. The park district gave Luis and Diana a gift card to Olive Garden for their first family dinner together in four months.
“I didn’t cry when he left, but I’m crying now,” Diana said.