Robert Fitzpatrick

ZANE FITZPATRICK and his dad, Robert Fitzpatrick, take a photo with Zane's third-grade class after Robert surprised his son at Ozark West Elementary School Jan. 8.  

Ozark third grader Zane Fitzpatrick knew he was going to get to see his dad soon, but Jan. 8 was 12 days earlier than anticipated. When his dad walked into a classroom at West Elementary, Zane was a bit confused. 

“It’s been such a long time, we wanted to do a little something extra for him,” said Robert Fitzpatrick, who serves in the Missouri National Guard. 

Fitzpatrick has been serving in Iraq for the past 18 months. Last year, Zane’s second-grade class sent Fitzpatrick letters. He returned their kindness with a flag, which hangs in the classroom. This year, Zane’s third-grade class got to be there when Zane saw his dad for the first time in more than 600 days. 

Zane admitted when his dad walked into the room toward the end of the school day, he didn’t know what to think or how to react. But afterward, he said he started realizing “this is real.”

Zane said he was looking forward to playing video games and wrestling with his dad. 

After leaving West Elementary, the family stopped at Ozark Middle School and Ozark Junior High School to surprise Zane’s siblings. 

“We have two others, a sixth grader and an eighth grader. Both of them knew he would be home in about two weeks and said, ‘please do not surprise us at school,’” Stephanie Fitzpatrick said. “We are going to pick them up at the other schools. They’ll be surprised when they come out to the car.”

Stephanie said it’s “been a long 18 months” and she’s excited to have her husband home. Robert, however, turned the tables.

“She did a good job keeping the household together. It was no small feat,” he said.

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