‘Better than Skype’: Navy commander stages surprise homecoming

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Andreas Heppner, center, reunites with his triplets, Chris, Maggie and Cooper at Anderson Elementary Thursday as his wife, Leslie, and daughter, Charlie, look on. Photos by Hilary Snow.
Andreas Heppner, center, reunites with his triplets, Chris, Maggie and Cooper at Anderson Elementary Thursday as his wife, Leslie, and daughter, Charlie, look on. Photos by Hilary Snow.

Over the past eight months, U.S. Navy Commander Andreas Heppner has missed out on a lot–Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, his youngest daughter’s birthday.

So, he certainly wasn’t going to miss a chance to give his kids a homecoming they wouldn’t forget.

Thursday, he did just that. After reuniting with his wife, Leslie, and two-year-old, Charlie, Heppner–who was deployed last year to Djibouti, Africa–surprised his 8-year-old triplets Chris, Cooper and Maggie at school.

Students at Anderson gave the entire Heppner family a surprise salute as they left school.
Students at Anderson gave the entire Heppner family a surprise salute as they left school.

They knew their dad was coming home some time soon–possibly in May–but they weren’t sure exactly when. So, after Heppner got confirmation of a return date, friend and Anderson Elementary data manager Leann Heath began plotting to make that return a big one.

While the Anderson Elementary second-graders thought they were chatting with their dad via Skype–as their entire class often does–Heppner was actually just across the hall.

“I’ve got to do the math to figure out what time it is in Africa,” Heppner joked ahead of his video call. “They always ask.”

Throwing them off with questions like, “did you eat lunch yet or is it still too early?” and “how’s the weather in Wilmington?,” Heppner then told the triplets he had a surprise for them before pretending he was having technical difficulties and got disconnected.

A few anxious moments later, he was face-to-face with his children.

“This is way better than Skype,” he said, laughing.

The emotional reunion left a teary-eyed Maggie, in a word, “speechless.”

Her brothers were a bit more chatty.

“I thought the surprise was that he hung up on us,” Chris said, to the amusement of his parents, grandparents and teachers.

Chris said what he looked forward to most, now that his dad was home permanently, was to “just go back home” and maybe have a cookout on the back porch.

Cooper was just glad to know the holidays and birthdays would forever be back to normal.

Because although Christmas was a fun and festive occasion for him and his siblings last year, “it wasn’t Christmas” without his dad there to celebrate.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.