U.S. Airman Swoops in to Surprise Daughter at Graduation

VIDEO: Taylor Craftons father, Chris, takes the place of a cardboard cutout the family prepared for the special day.

A high school senior who cried on her way to graduation because her father, a deployed member of the U.S. Air Force, would not be there, got the surprise of her life after receiving her diploma.

Taylor Crafton, 18, of Grand Forks, N.D., had no idea what to expect Sunday when the principal of Grand Forks Central High School called her back up to the stage at the end of graduation.

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In the audience, her mother, Paige Crafton, says she was a little upset that the principal would call out her daughter, whom everyone knew was upset that her father was missing another one of her senior year moments since being deployed to Cuba in January.

"I thought, 'Why is he pulling her up in front of all her classmates, knowing that her dad is deployed and it's so emotional?'" Paige Crafton told ABC News. "Taylor is up there just bawling her eyes out in front of her class."

Watching it all from the audience with the Crafton family was a cardboard cut-out of Taylor's dad, Chief Master Sergeant Chris Crafton, that Taylor had named "Flat Daddy" and carried with her to prom and other senior year milestones.

At this milestone, however, "Flat Daddy" was put aside when Sgt. Crafton himself rushed onto the graduation stage to surprise his daughter.

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"We had 'Flat Daddy' there at graduation and that's all that we knew was going to happen until we saw him there," said Paige Crafton, an Air Force vet herself who had no clue of her husband's surprise.

Sgt. Crafton, who could not be reached today by ABC News, had managed to get permission from his superiors to fly home for the graduation well ahead of his planned return from deployment in August.

Crafton even flew over his daughter's graduation party on his way home Friday night and spoke to her right before she arrived at graduation, while never revealing his surprise.

"We live in the flight path and he said he could see the kids at the party at our house," Crafton said. "He hid out in a hotel until the graduation."

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Sgt. Crafton, a 28-year Air Force veteran who has been on nine deployments and seen his family move from Virginia to Georgia to Italy until settling in North Dakota six years ago, will be home with his family on leave until Thursday.

He will then fly back to Cuba until he can return home in August and send his daughter on her next big adventure: studying interior design at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga.

"Now that the whole thing is over, we're all just kind of still in shock that the military let it happen and so thankful that he was here to celebrate Taylor's big day," Crafton said.

"She and her dad are very close and she was pretty devastated when he was deployed," she said. "It's been a roller coaster the past few months."

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