BEACON FALLS — The last time Lauren Tompkins saw her brother James, a low altitude air defense gunner in the U.S. Marine Corps, was in March. She wasn’t expecting to see him again until Thanksgiving.
So, when James walked into her last period class Sept. 26 at Woodland Regional High School — with a bouquet of flowers in hand — Lauren didn’t think it was real at first.
“When I saw him I just didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was true,” said Lauren, a 17-year-old senior at Woodland. “When I touched him I just started shaking.”
James, 19, graduated from Woodland in 2012. He tried college after graduation, but said it wasn’t for him.
“I always wanted to join the Marine Corps,” said James, who added he was inspired to become a Marine after 9/11.
James recently completed nine months of military occupancy school in California and will be deployed to Afghanistan in December. Despite everything that is going on in his life, James jumped on a flight at Los Angeles International Airport shortly before midnight last Wednesday night to come home and visit his mother and little sister.
“I just haven’t seen her in so long,” James said. “I thought it would be great to come home and see her.”
Perhaps the only student in Lisa Olivere’s classroom who wasn’t caught off guard when James walked in was Lauren’s friend and fellow senior Katie Nemec, who helped to coordinate the surprise visit.
After James weaved his way to Lauren’s desk the siblings from Prospect shared an emotional embrace. James then briefly talked with students about his experiences as a Marine.
With tears of joy still streaming down her face, Lauren talked about her brother with glowing pride. She said James has always been a heroic figure in her life and has supported her fully in everything she’s done.
“He’s absolutely my hero and he’s always been,” Lauren said.
As the last school bell sounded the end of the day and before leaving to spend some quality time with her hero, Lauren offered a message to all members of the armed forces.
“Thank you to all our troops out there,” she said. “Good luck and stay safe.”