Army Spc. Crystal Merice wasn't supposed to be home until the day before Thanksgiving.

However, in she walked to a crowded room at Hindley Elementary School last Friday, surprising her son, Sincere Francois. She was introduced as a "surprise veteran," which caused momentary confusion during the annual Veterans Day celebration at the school.

Sincere, a fourth-grader at the school, was tucked back in a corner with fellow students set to sing, "Let's Wave the Flag/Red/White and Blue."

Merice walked down the aisle with apprehension, but a smile spread across her face when she stopped in the middle of the room to motion to her son to come join her. She had just spent the last year on a tour in Afghanistan, her second tour in the three years that she has been enlisted in the Army.

Sincere pushed his way through the crowd of other fourth-graders and wove in and out of fifth-graders sitting on the floor to make his way into Merice's outstretched arms.

Her mother had contacted Hindley Principal Rita Ferri earlier in the morning to tell her that Merice was flying in early from Texas and the two arranged the surprise. Parents and town officials worked to hold back their tears witnessing the emotional reunion.

Merice and Sincere, as well as Merice's mother, left the ceremony after the surprise.

The Veterans' Day celebration is an annual tradition at Hindley. Military service veterans from students' families as well as friends of the school take part in the event.

The 41 veterans in attendance, some of whom traveled from other states, fielded questions from students and were introduced to the audience.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews