Riley School PE Teacher Bryan Scott strategically placed boxes of tissues around the school gymnasium Wednesday afternoon. Very few people understood the significance until minutes later when it became very clear.
Pam Merten, Barton County Special Services paraprofessional, was wide-eyed with surprise as her son, Cory, emerged from behind the stage during a flag etiquette program by the American Legion Riders Patriot Guard. Cory, a U.S. Air Force airman, surprised his mother between deployments in South Korea and Germany. It had been a year since she had seen him and he will have a three-week leave.
As mother and son hugged, teary-eyed staff members reached for the tissues.
Principal JoAnn Blevins said the conspiracy to surprise Pam began a couple of weeks ago with an idea from Mike Merten, Pam’s husband. Together the two planned the ruse using the Patriot Guard who descended on the school riding flag adorned motorcycles.
“We told the kids it was a flag-etiquette program,” Blevins said. Children rose when the guard entered the gym carrying American flags and stayed standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
“It was really hard to keep this little secret from my wife,” Merten said.
Cory agreed, laughing. “She can be really nosy and ask a lot of questions.”
The young airman was given a plaque of support for his service and a special flag during the short, but moving, ceremony.
“We do this so that no one who comes home is forgotten,” said Roy Titsworth during the presentation. The sentiment was shared by his compatriots who, while holding American flags, were visibly tearing up and in need of some of Scott’s well-placed tissues.