ST. LOUIS - It's been an exciting 48 hours for a local Air Force national guardsman and his family.
Technical Sgt. Matthew Jones returned from serving seven months overseas.
Since his plane landed Monday night at Lambert, he's had two emotional reunions: one of them a complete surprise.
Holding signs, and American flags, their cell phone cameras rolling, technical sergeant Matthew Jones ended a 24-hour journey home from Africa in the arms of his fiancé and family.
"It makes your heart drop just to see everybody there,” says Jones. “Makes it worthwhile."
For all the laughter and tears of the airport reunion, there was someone very special missing from this homecoming.
"It’s going to be excitement and nervousness all at the same time because we haven't seen each other in 7 months,” says Jones.
That someone special: Matthew's soon-to-be-stepson Ledger.
"It was rough because Ledger was experiencing emotions but really couldn't process them," says Ledger’s mother and Matthew’s fiancé Rachel McNamee of the time Matthew was gone.
After all of the ups and downs of the past few months, Ledger's long separation from Matthew came to a very patriotic and surprising end Wednesday morning at his pre-school.
His classmates at the Ritenour School for Early Childhood Education are studying the letter “U,” and dressed in red, white and blue, the colors of the USA. The perfect backdrop to Matthew's arrival, a part of the celebration Ledger has no idea is about to happen.
"I'm not sure who's going to be more excited, him, me, or Rachel," says Matthew.
As the pledge of allegiance came to an end, Matthew stepped into the crowd.'
"Ledger!" he called out.
But when you're a preschooler, a few months can seem like years. And his first glimpse of his soon-to-be stepfather brought out the shy side in this outgoing little boy.
"He means the world to me,” says Matthew. “Every day he does something different to make you laugh or smile."
After a few minutes of playing it cool and holding back tears, this five-year-old and his father figure were back to tickling and laughing with each other.
A happy family of three excited to begin planning the rest of their lives together.
Matthew and Rachel have a September wedding planned.
We wish all three of them the best.
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