We were introduced to U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Josh Ricafrente in November through a viral video of a surprise on-field reunion with his sons at an East Carolina University football game following his latest deployment to Afghanistan.
“It’s a shocker to me,” Ricafrente told ABCNews.com today when he learned of the news. “I was telling my boss, I didn’t know it was going to go as viral as it did. I was shocked when y’all played it on ‘GMA’ the first time around. All my friends were like, ‘Oh man, you made national news.’”
He added, “I’m glad that people still appreciate what we do. That makes me feel good.”
On Nov. 3, Ricafrente’s sons, 10-year-old Noah, and 8-year-old Elijah, got to go onto the field during halftime at the East Carolina football game to try out their football skills. But they had no idea their dad, Ricafrente, a 12-year service veteran who had been deployed in Afghanistan for the past five months, would be there in person to give them the surprise of their lives.
“I was talking to my wife and said it’d be cool if I could surprise the kids at the ECU game,” Ricafrente told ABCNews.com in November.
“My wife did all of the communicating until I got back, and then they just told me where I needed to be,” he said. “I just thought it was going to be fun to do, but ECU made it reality.”
Noah, who was 9 months old when his father deployed the first time, and Elijah, who wasn’t even born then, thought their dad would be returning home in December, just in time for the holidays.
Instead, they watched their dad on the stadium’s big screen in a taped message right before the halftime contest began and then saw him “live” just moments after.
“Everybody started crying,” he said of the crowd in the stands. “Everybody screamed, and I heard in the background they were chanting ‘USA,’ and I thought that was pretty cool.”
Ricafrente hasn’t told his sons their video won the “GMA” Play of the Year video contest.
“I haven’t told them yet. They’re at school. We’re going Christmas shopping right now, but I’m sure when they find out they’ll be thrilled,” he said.
ABC News’ Katie Kindelan contributed to this report.