So much for surprises...

November 19, 2011

Everybody knows that airline flights are sometimes delayed, but Saturday night’s delay seemed a little bit more difficult to bear.

The flight was carrying Matthew Rodgers, a Marine Corps lance corporal from Gaithersburg. He was coming home on leave after seven months in Afghanistan.

His arrival here was to touch off a special celebration, secretly planned by his sister, Tori, 17, with the aim of giving their parents, Pinky and Pepe, one big surprise.

In 10 lively days, she put it all together. The idea expanded rapidly, as she and a friend prepared a celebration that was going to surprise not only the parents but also the young Marine.

There was to be a parade. A marching band. A fire truck. The police. Red, white and blue outfits. A municipal proclamation.

“He deserves so much more than this,” Tori said. “He never asks for anything. We ask what he wants for Christmas and he says nothing. He served in Afghanistan. Maybe one day, I can give him more. But this will be good, just for today.”

Late Saturday night, Tori headed for Dulles International Airport. Matthew was to arrive there soon, in the first step of the big welcome home.

She waited and waited. The plane was reported to be delayed. Maintenance problems were reported. The hours went by. When would Matthew arrive? Would the surprise remain a surprise? Would everybody still be waiting, full of enthusiasm and excitement?

The first question was finally answered when the flight landed and she got permission to go to the arrival gate just before 11 p.m. There, at last, was her brother.

Then it was into her car and off through the November night to Gaithersburg, where the second question was still to be answered.

Robert Samuels writes for the Post’s social issues team. In Maryland, he focuses on issues affecting low-income children and families. He also covers life in the District.
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