NEW ORLEANS -- A civics lecture on respect for our troops turned into a real-life lesson for students at one New Orleans school Monday.
And it got very personal for a couple of those students and the dad they hadn't seen in nearly a year.
In this day of social media, the surprise, which Army and National Guard Specialist Richard Lee had planned, was almost ruined by Facebook.
"My heart is in my feet because these two are, they're my biggest pride and joy. They're the reason I kick, live, breathe. You know I love those two little kids to death, and I really mean that. And I'm excited to be back in their lives and be a big part of them growing up and being successful," said Lee, 30, of Gretna, while he was waiting to surprise his son and daughter.
Friends posted over the weekend that he was home, but he had set up a surprise plan for Monday with the principal at Alice Harte Charter in Algiers.
Fifth grader Laila Lee and her second grade brother, Richard Junior, thought they were going to a patriotic assembly. The school band played the 'Star Spangled Banner' and 'You're a Grand Old Flag.' Students waved little American flags.
They thought the assembly was about respecting the troops. They thought it was about showing the puzzle piece necklace their dad gave to them before he deployed to Afghanistan nearly a year ago. It's one that fits perfectly with the piece he wore on his dog tags.
"When you put it together, it'll say 'Laila, Richard, Daddy, united forever.'" Laila told the student body from the podium.
When the principal asked why the chain and puzzle piece charm was important, she said, "Because he hasn't been here for a year and it's always good to know that he's still with me."
Richard Junior said he prayed the Lord's Prayer every night for his dad.
But when she and her brother sat down and waited for the guest speaker, Lee walked in.
The children ran crying and fell into their father's arms.
"This day is special because I've been gone nine long months. I want you guys to know that what we do, we do for you guys. And my sacrifice was that I couldn't see these two beautiful kids for nine months and it was very emotional some nights. I missed them a lot. I had their pictures up and I just look at their pictures. But also remind my self of why I do this so that all of you guys can stay safe," Lee said to the student body.
But in that student body, two other little girls were crying hard. Lee had no idea nieces Mia and Olivia Cook were there. They missed Uncle Richard too.
Then he gave his message to all the children: Don't bully and work hard to earn respect.
"Respect your peers. Respect your parents and you'll go a long way. I promise you," he said.
Lee said he had 18 missions during his time in Afghanistan and feels lucky that he came home safely and uninjured.