Soldier's homecoming surprises wife, son and theater audience

By JAMES SCOTT BARON | The Free Lance-Star | Published: December 10, 2019

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (Tribune News Service) — An Army soldier returned home from Afghanistan and surprised his family with a Christmas homecoming they will never forget.

Unbeknownst to his wife Bree and their young son Ryland, Army Spc. Shawn O’Malley stepped out onto the stage of Stafford’s Riverside Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night, with actors who were portraying different branches of the military.

Those actors were reading letters written home to loved ones while “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was being performed.

When it was O’Malley’s turn to take the stage, he read his own letter to his wife in the audience.

Bree O’Malley, who was seated at a table near the rear of the floor-level seating section, let out a loud gasp of excitement as she recognized her husband immediately. Their son Ryland, who turns 3 on Friday, also realized there was more to the play than just actors, and soon yelled out “Daddy.”

“I was just so surprised,” Bree O’Malley said. “I was already emotional just from the [military] tribute in general. And then he walked out and it was even more emotional.

“It was single-handedly one of the best nights I’ve ever had.”

Both mother and son were escorted onstage for the reunion by Patrick A’Hearn, the theater’s producing artistic director, to the applause of the packed house.

“The place erupted,” A’Hearn said. “There was over a minute-long ovation, it was just terrific.”

The surprise reunion was originally conceived by Cynthia Shaw of Fredericksburg and Kristen Lowe of Adephi, Md., two co-workers and close friends of Bree. The women originally suggested that Shawn meet Bree in the lobby of the theater, but A’Hearn suggested taking the idea to a more creative level by incorporating the reunion directly into the evening performance.

“This was actually plan No. 15. Things kept getting changed because of Shawn’s deployment schedule,” Lowe said.

A’Hearn said the theater’s “Christmas Spectacular” is traditionally its biggest selling show, and a tribute to the military was recently added.

He said the theater tries to do more for the community in addition to delivering quality entertainment. Saturday night’s family reunion was one such example.

“We’re also here to make a difference,” A’Hearn said. “This was a very exciting moment here for us.”

Bree O’Malley said it was so exciting for her that the words didn’t register as her husband read his letter.

“After I saw him come out, I kind of just tuned everything else out,” she said. “So as he started reading, I really didn’t hear anything he said, I just knew it was him and I was going to go up and see him.”

After the show, there was one more surprise. O’Malley told his wife and son that he had arranged a Christmas trip to Disney World. They leave next week.

©2019 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)
Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome
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