(photo by Nancy Nelson)
By Nancy Nelson, Staff Writer
The Lillefloren family was full of surprises last week. In an emotional and bittersweet reunion, Sgt. Chris Lillefloren, returned home for a five day leave from Fort Lewis, Wash., where he has been stationed since July. The visit home will be his final visit prior to being sent over to Iraq for a 15 month tour of duty. Lillefloren is a member of the National Guard serving in the 113th Calvary out of Le Mars.
Lillefloren is the son of Jeff and Deb Lillefloren of Cherokee. He and his wife Mandy have two children, Brooke, an 8 year old third grade student at Roosevelt Elementary, and Brody age 2. To make his visit home as special as possible for both him and his family, his wife and mom devised a plan.
The first surprise came when his aunt, Jan Cassel, of Billings, Mont. made arrangements to be home for her nephew's leave. When his aunt realized she would have a connecting flight in Denver, it quickly became apparent she would be on the same change over flight as her nephew. When she greeted him at the Denver airport, the surprise was on him.
They laugh as they relay the story of how he didn't realize she was there right away. She was trying to take a picture of him and he kept trying to get out of her way, thinking she was trying to take a picture of something else. From there they were on the same flight into Omaha.
The second and most significant surprise came when his wife and mom picked them up in Omaha and headed straight for Roosevelt Elementary in Cherokee where he was to surprise his daughter during her participation in the after school program.
As Brooke was finishing up her work in Carmen Henke's classroom, the office called down to see if she was in there. They asked Henke to keep her in the classroom because she had a surprise coming. Brooke couldn't imagine what surprise was coming around the corner and she was getting anxious to go with her friends. As she headed for the door she stopped, in a split second the realization that she was staring into the face of her dad dawned on her. Only one word was spoken, "Dad!" and she was scooped up into his arms where she held on for dear life. Tears flowed and there was silence for moments as they held each other tight. Finally her dad asked in a choked up voice, "Are you surprise?" With a tearful reply all she could say was, "Yeah." With a deep tearful sigh, he set her down and the reunion continued as he told her about his intent to wear his uniform but he got shampoo on it, apparently in the suitcase, she giggled and a big bright smile returned to her face
The rest of Lillefloren's family got their surprise over the weekend. His wife made arrangements for "an anniversary party" for his parents since they will be celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary this year. Lillefloren stayed hidden from the rest of his family until the party. His younger brother and sister, grandparents and other family members expected to attend an anniversary party when in fact, they were treated to a visit from the family hero.