CHARDON, OH -- Students at Maple Elementary School have made it their tradition to recognize local veterans on Veteran's day.
"I think it's really important that the kids recognize Veteran's day and the pride in this country that we have, we try to instill that here at Maple," said Principal Scott May.
The invitations for relatives who have served in the US armed forces to join them in uniform have gone out for the past three or four weeks, one of them reaching US Army Specialist Patrick Collins who is stationed at Joint Base Langley Eustis in Virginia.
Collins is the father of a first grade daughter, Emma and a third grade son, Sean.
His wife Rachel watches over the kids from their home in Chardon, separated by 350 miles from her husband.
"They especially miss him at night, you know, because he used to read to them and all that kind of stuff," said Rachel.
"It's a little different because I'm doing it willingly as opposed to being sent overseas. I'm not in harm's way but I'm still separated from my family. I still miss them," said Patrick.
After seeing the invitation, it was Specialist Collins' idea to take some leave time and surprise his kids at Tuesday's assembly.
"I'm not coming in from overseas. I haven't been deployed. Still I grew up here and so it's kind of a cool thing to come back and surprise my own kids at the school that I went to," Collins told Fox 8 before the assembly.
With the students singing patriotic songs and reciting essays they had written in honor of US veterans, Collins waited in a back room for the moment he was announced.
His children raced out of their seats to greet him.
"All I thought it was going to be a little celebration, but then he came out and I went, Ahhhhh....," said his son Sean.
Their mother, sitting in the audience, was aware he was there and anxious for the emotional surprise.
"They are all so close to him its been hard on them to be away from them, but he has been such a good dad," she said.
Collins says he is winding down his active duty service and plans to join his family in Chardon, although he intends to remain in the U-S Army Reserves.
"It's good that the kids are being made aware that there are men and women putting themselves in harm's way," said Collins, adding, "so keep in mind if you know anyone who is a veteran thank them."