Long Island students get surprise visit from their Air Force pen pal

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Kristin Thorne is in Huntington Station with the story. (WABC)

Some elementary school kids on Long Island received a huge surprise Wednesday.

An Air Force sergeant, a pen pal to the 10-year old students, had just returned from his second tour of duty in the Middle East, and showed up in their class.

For the past 6 months students at Maplewood Intermediate School in Huntington Station have been writing letters to an airman stationed overseas.

They probably never thought they would meet that airman, Staff Sergeant Zachary Taillie, but Wednesday they did.

"What did you think when he walked in?," we asked one student. "Happy. I almost cried," she said.

"I want to thank you so much for writing all the letters and it was great to get to write back and forth," Sgt. Taillie said.

Taillie had been stationed with the Air Force in Qatar. The Syracuse native says the one thing he looked forward to was the kids' letters.

"We would hang them up and I would give them out to the other guys and they would hang them off the computer or off something in the wall," he said. "It was just a little piece of home to say you're still appreciated while you're over here, so that was great. I don't think they realize how much of an impact they had one us while we were over there."

But he's had an impact on 5th grader Domenick Pastore, who wants to be a Navy Seal. Taillie brought him a gift Wednesday.

"This is a combat flown flag, it flew on a B1 bomber over Iraq," Taillie said.

But the kids still had some questions for Taillie.

"Is there any bad weather there?", one student asked. "Yes, the sandstorms are actually really bad," he replied.

The students had written some final letters but no need to drop them in the mail this time.

"Do you know what type of airplane this is?," he asked one student, showing a picture. "That was part of our mission over there."

Taillie's mission on this day, though, he says, was to show his gratitude to the students.

"It was great to finally be able to express the appreciation and say thank you back in person," he said.


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