SOUTH FORT MYERS, Fla. The surprise was sweeter than any Valentine’s Day candy could have been.
Richard and Patricia France thought they’d be reuniting with friends when they pulled into the arrivals lane Tuesday at Southwest Florida International Airport. Instead, they saw their grandson, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Collin Yoder, standing outside the door.
“All of a sudden my husband goes, ‘Well, there’s Collin,’ and that’s when I lost it,” Patricia said. “I couldn’t get out of that truck fast enough.”
Yoder arranged with the friends to concoct a ruse that left the Frances completely unaware.
“We tricked them good, in a way we knew they wouldn’t suspect anything,” he said.
Richard hadn’t seen Yoder in three years, and Patricia hadn’t seen him in two. He’s been stationed in Germany and was recently deployed to Turkey, and in two days he’ll have to leave again to prepare for a deployment in Africa.
In the meantime, he intends to savor the chance to reconnect with his grandparents at their winter home on Pine Island.
“It felt surreal to be able to see that truck again, to see them,” Yoder said.
Yoder’s mother was in on the plan.
“I text my daughter saying, ‘We got him,’ and she said, ‘You’re not mad at me are you?'” Patricia said. “I said of course not!”
Richard is sorry his friends didn’t wind up coming, but he’s far from upset about the deception.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see my grandson again,” he said. “It’s wonderful. I am so glad he tricked us!”
The moment was doubly sweet for Richard, a Vietnam War veteran. Yoder followed in his footsteps when he enlisted three years ago at the age of 18.
Richard began to tear up as he spoke about his grandson’s service.
“He’s one of the warriors,” Richard said.
Richard’s heartstrings aren’t the ones Yoder pulled Tuesday. A stranger came up to Yoder in the airport lobby and gave him money to take his grandparents out to dinner.
“It means a lot to me,” Yoder said. “I don’t really like to be thanked for my service — it’s something I chose to do — but it’s nice to see people appreciate it.”
For the next two days, Yoder will be most appreciated merely for his presence.
“From 1-10, this is probably at least a 50,” Patricia said. “It’s the biggest surprise of my life!”
WINK News reporter Megan Contreras was there at the moment the reunion happened: