A wish comes true

Santa delivers on the spot, as Sgt. Derick Beatty visits from Afghanistan in time for Christmas

December 14, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTER

Two months ago, when Sgt. Derick Beatty's children wrote letters to Santa, video games and kitchen sets topped their carefully crafted lists.

But this week, with their father scheduled to return home after a year in Afghanistan and with a little prodding from their mom, 8-year-old D.J. and 5-year-old Learic revised their registries, ranking the return of their dad No. 1.

Those wishes came true yesterday - on the spot - when Beatty surprised his children as they sat on Santa's lap, reading their lists and wishing for their dad's return, at the Harford Mall.

Both D.J. and Learic looked stunned as their father knelt beside Santa. Their mother, Tanya Beatty, stood nearby, quivering and sobbing.

"All I ever wanted to have was for him to have a good welcome," she said after regaining her composure. "He's worked so hard."

Tanya Beatty, a dental hygienist, orchestrated the surprise for her children with a little assistance from mall representatives. When her husband arrived in Baltimore late Wednesday night for a three-week visit, she went so far as to force him to spend his first night back home in the basement.

"I heard all the pitter-patter," he said of his children getting ready for school yesterday morning. "I wanted to take a peek, but I didn't want to mess it up. Somebody would have caught me."

An Army combat infantryman, Derick Beatty was assigned to go to Korea in August 2006. But about a month after he got there, his commanders asked for volunteers to undergo training in conducting "post-blast" investigations of improvised explosive devices and use those new skills in Afghanistan.

"We have a volunteer Army and, of course, I didn't volunteer," he joked. "But I got sent anyways."

He spent about two months in Aberdeen and Washington, learning about the roadside bombs that have claimed the lives of so many of his fellow soldiers, before being dispatched to Afghanistan.

He spent Christmas last year in a freezing-cold shed in the snowy mountains of Bagram.

"It was depressing," Beatty said. "I called home. I could hear all the excitement on the phone, which is good. But then you hang up the phone."

He spent the night e-mailing every person he knew in the military, assuming that if he was sad and lonely, they might be, too.

"A lot of guys wrote back like that," he said, snapping his fingers. "It helped ease the pain."

For New Year's Eve, some soldiers balled up 200 pounds of aluminum foil and dropped it from a crane at midnight - an attempt at replicating the Waterford crystal globe in New York's Times Square.

Beatty, a New York native, spent two weeks back home in Abingdon with his wife and kids in July. But then it was back to Afghanistan.

He said he has already had to make some adjustments to life back home.

"I forgot about traffic," he said, after arriving a few minutes late to the Harford Mall for the big surprise. "Over there, we just push everybody else off the road. And I forgot about speeding tickets, too. Over there, we were the police and everything. I need to slow down."

Other adjustments were more pleasurable - driving a Pontiac Grand Prix rental car, for instance, in just his camouflage uniform. In Afghanistan, he said, he traveled in the turret of a Humvee, where he manned the gun with about 45 pounds of gear strapped to him.

He spent a couple of hours hunkered down in the basement Wednesday night, talking with his wife until 2 a.m. after their kids went to bed and she let him sneak into their house.

"I felt like we were college students," Tanya Beatty said.

Derick Beatty arrived first at the Bel Air mall yesterday.

When Tanya called to say she was on her way, a giddy mall employee escorted the soldier to a jewelry store just behind the oversized chair where Santa was holding court.

As D.J. and Learic approached, Tanya Beatty began to cry. Santa went over the children's lists, and then asked them to cover their eyes and wish as hard as they could for what they wanted.

With that, Derick Beatty strolled around the corner, knelt beside his daughter and asked his children to open their eyes.

"You weren't supposed to be home until the 15th," D.J. remarked as Learic crawled into her father's lap, buried her head in his chest and began to cry softly.

Asked what he'd like to do now that his father was home, the little boy smiled and said, "See if any other wishes will come true."


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