FORTY FORT, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – The holiday season can be a tough time for families separated from their loved ones serving in the military.
That’s why what happened Thursday morning at a kindergarten program was so heartwarming. Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller takes us to a kids’ Christmas concert with a military homecoming surprise.
In the middle of a chorus of kindergarten students at Dana Street Elementary School was 5-year-old Lydia Baird. She had a solo part from the song “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and sang, “Mine will be the shortest one. You’ll be sure to know.” What she didn’t know was she was about to get a big surprise direct from Japan.
At the end of the program, Principal David Bond announced from the auditorium stage, “So we want to give him a warm, welcome home. Thank you for your service.”
Lydia’s cousin, 19-year-old U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Landon Stanislow of Plymouth, made it to her class concert. She hadn’t seen him for about a year — the time he’s been stationed at the Marine Corps base in Okinawa.
Her mother, Jessica Lewis, said “Every day she would say, you know, When’s Landon coming home? When’s Landon coming home? I miss him.”
Lydia missed him so much that she carries around a Marine plush toy that LCPL Stanislow gave her last December which she calls “Landon Bear”. But nothing beats the real thing as was evidenced by the way he held her in his arms and hugged her. When asked how surprised she was, Lydia said “Really surprised.”
Lydia wasn’t the only one surprised. Most of the family wasn’t expecting this homecoming until sometime in 2020. LCPL Stanislow got the idea of this surprise reunion in July. He needed help from his uncle, Allen Baird, to be able to pull it off. The Pennsylvania Patriot arrived home Tuesday night and he lives next door to Lydia which Mr. Baird said made it really difficult.
“Keeping it away from everybody. Not letting anybody find out about it. That and getting him home. Getting him home was really hard.”
How hard? Try three plane rides, a day and a half long flight itinerary and a few fibs on his whereabouts.
“He thought of everything,” said LCPL Stanislow’s mother Mary Jean Baird-Stanislow. When asked if it was the best possible deception, she said “Yes, yes. He did a great job.”
LCPL Stanislow was glad the surprise happened without a hitch.
“Not a lot of people get to come home for the holidays so, like, for me to be able to come home and surprise my family and do this for her (Lydia) means a lot to me.”
It means a lot to a little girl, too, who finally has her cousin home. When asked if this was her best Christmas present, Lydia said “Yeah” as LCPL Stanislow chuckled.
LCPL Stanislow will get to spend the holidays at home with Lydia and the rest of his family. He returns to the Marine Corps base in Okinawa on January 2nd.