Madison Mehringer got an early Veterans Day surprise Thursday afternoon at her school in Hoover, Ala.
The 9-year-old was leading her Deer Valley Elementary classmates in a cheer for U.S. service members when her father appeared in the auditorium.
The gym erupted in applause as the two hugged, cried and told each other, “I love you.”
Army Staff Sgt. Mark Mehringer, a Green Beret serving in the Middle East, had been away for nearly a year. Madison had not seen him since Christmas.
“When he told me was going to fight in the war, it was just, I was heartbroken,” Madison told WBMA-TV. “But I knew that my dad, he was going to make our country better.”
She said that she often wished that she was one of the children shown on TV reuniting with their soldier parents.
“Now it is,” Madison said.
Madison’s class sent Mehringer, who is based at Fort Bragg, N.C., a care package and letters during his deployment.
“It’s just an amazing experience, an amazing feeling,” he said, “to be able to hug her, feel her close to me and tell her that I love her.”
– The Birmingham News and ABC News affiliate WBMA-TV in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to this story.