, Salem, MA

Local News

March 11, 2014

A birthday surprise

Peabody 4-year-old gets unexpected visit from dad stationed overseas

PEABODY — Aleena Valentin’s fourth birthday was expected to be tough because Dad was away, and he’s been away 14 months serving with the U.S. Marines in Okinawa.

All she wanted for her present yesterday, she told her mom, Jessica, was to have her dad home. But by the time she got to the Passos Avante preschool, she was resigned.

“I guess my dad isn’t coming for my birthday,” she told her teachers.

So it might be understandable that Aleena looked stunned when Gunnery Sgt. Ricardo Valentin walked in the door just as the birthday girl had settled down at a cafeteria table with her classmates to enjoy some birthday cake.

“Look who it is,” her teachers said as some onlookers wiped away tears.

Smiling, Aleena took a moment before leaving the table and running into her father’s arms. After that, it was a long time before she let go.

The birthday surprise was a complex operation run mostly by Mom. Dad actually came home last Friday, but hid out until the party, which wasn’t easy on him.

“I wanted to go ... and see my girl. I just wanted to pick her up,” he said. Meanwhile, he was able to see, for the first time, his 7-month-old son, Christian. He praised his wife, who had arranged a birthday party his daughter won’t soon forget. The Valentins have been married six years.

“This is the gift she wanted,” Jessica explained. “It’s been really hard for her.”

Aleena was given a choice of several impressive birthday trips, but shook her head at each one.

“I don’t want to do anything,” she told her mom. “I just want to see my dad.” Over the months she has seen her father electronically on Skype — the same system the sergeant used to watch the birth of his son.

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