ST. PAULS — St. Pauls native Brandon Chandler has traveled from Italy to Iraq and most places in between while serving in the U.S. Navy.
But recently, the 28-year-old found him himself in the best place in the world — in the arms of his 7-year-old son.
Chandler made a surprise visit his son Elijah’s school.
The two had not seen each other in almost a year. Chandler is currently stationed in San Diego while he waits to be re-deployed overseas. Elijah lives with his grandmother Victoria while Chandler serves in the military.
Chandler said he surprised Elijah during what appeared to be a typical school day for the second-grader at St Pauls Elementary School.
“It was great feeling just seeing his face,” Chandler said. “He had no idea I was coming home. When he saw me he yelled ‘daddy’ and jumped into my arms. We just held on to each other.”
St. Pauls Elementary School Principal Robert Locklear took part in run-up to the reunion. He went to Elijah’s music class to speak to the child ahead of the surprise.
“I asked him things like what his father did for a living,” Locklear said.
The youngster wanted to know if he was in trouble.
“There was a knock at the door and I asked Elijah to go answer it,” Locklear said.
Locklear said he got a “little choked up” witnessing the reunion.
“We all got emotional,” Locklear said. “I served for 12 years in the military so I know how special moments like that are.”
Douglas Laferney, Elijah’s second-grade teacher, said father and son were elated to see one another.
“I was moving for them and moving for us,” Laferney said. “Elijah is a good kid and you can see he loves his dad very much.”
Chandler got to spend six days with his son before having to return to California. He said the two played cards, rode bikes and he got to see his son play football for the first time.
“We had a great time,” Chandler said. “Now I know why I’m serving in the military. It is keep him and those who care for him safe.”
Chandler said the toughest part of the visit was saying goodbye.
“The day I had to go and he was going to school, he asked me if I would be there when he got home,” Chandler said. “My heart just flat lined.”
The two plan to keep in touch through Skype.
“But it is not the same as being there,” Chandler said. “I will continue to serve my country, but it gets hard.”
Chandler, a 2003 graduate of St. Pauls High School, said he hopes to return to his hometown when he retires from the Navy to start a business.