The one-word exclamation brought many in the room to tears.

It took about two seconds for 9-year-old Jessie Wirtz to realize that the man in the Spiderman costume was her dad, whom she hadn't seen since he deployed to Afghanistan a year ago.

David Wirtz, returning to the Quad-Cities from his fifth deployment with the Army Sustainment Command, wore the Spiderman costume into his daughter's fourth-grade classroom Friday at Jackson Elementary School. He pretended to be there to pick a Jackson School "hero" for the day. After draping one of the school's hero capes over his daughter's shoulders, he removed his mask and gave her shoulder a gentle tap.

Jessie turned to her dad, shouted, "Daddy!" and threw herself into his arms. Crying, she said to him, "I missed you."

The scene had parents, teachers, even a few of Jessie's classmates, in tears.

Shortly after the surprise, Jessie demanded some answers from her dad, who wasn't scheduled to arrive home until Monday.

"Where's your truck?" she asked.

"I hid it," he said, smiling at his daughter as he stroked her hair. "I was hiding from you until today."

His wife, Christy Wirtz, said their daughter knew something was up when she showed up at the school, but she said Jessie suspected it had to do with the Jackson school tradition of naming kids student heroes.

"Fortunately, I'm not a crier," Christy Wirtz said. "If I was, it would have been a rough year. He's been gone pretty much every other year since Jessie's been born.

"I thought it would get easier, but that's not the case."

The couple also has a 5-month-old daughter, and Christy Wirtz said the baby recognizes her dad from weekly Internet calls via Skype and from photos. Now, the whole family is getting ready to take a vacation to Disneyland.

But Friday afternoon, father and daughter were basking in the moment.

"It was pretty cool," David Wirtz said, fighting back tears. "It was pretty emotional. She's my buddy, right here. It was great.

"It's got to be hard, being away from their dad or any parent. It stinks, being away. We knew what we signed up for, though."

The 39-year-old hopes his latest deployment was his last. After 19 years with the Army, he is planning to retire soon and said the family plans to stay in the Quad-Cities.

Asked what is the best part about being home, besides seeing his family, Wirtz said, "My own bed and food, of course. And I got home for the World Series, too. I'm not a fan of either team, but I'll be rooting for the Cardinals for my neighbors."

(2) comments


Thank you to the whole family!


Poor Jessie didn't know what to do. She was in tears, Dave was in tears and I was in tears. One good thing, they were tears of joy. This poor child has missed her Dad so much. It was hard being 9 and having a baby sister arrive and her Daddy leave yet again for a war zone.

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