Six-year-old Grace La Giglia got her Christmas present a couple of days early this year. Her father, Army Staff Sgt. John La Giglia, 29, surprised her Friday morning when he walked into her classroom at Sutherland Elementary School just hours after returning from a yearlong tour in Afghanistan.
“I’m just really excited to see my kids, to be honest with you,” said La Giglia, who arrived at the school to find a crowd of family and friends welcoming him home to Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood.
La Giglia carried Grace out of her classroom and stepped into a hallway lined with students chanting “U-S-A.”
"I’ve been all around the world, and there’s nothing like the South Side of Chicago,” he said of his welcome home.
La Giglia is the classic snapshot of citizen soldier; An Army warrior for a year who comes home to his day job as a sprinkler fitter in Chicago.
"I held him in my arms when he was younger as a baby. And now to seem him, he's a hero," said his sister, Rachel Ready.
John’s wife of seven years, “Mel” La Giglia, found out earlier this week that John would be coming home Friday. After raising the couple’s three children -- Grace; Mick, 4; and Brooke, 2 -- on her own while getting her nursing degree, she is looking forward to “just having a normal life.”
The youngest of five siblings, John enlisted in the Army at 18 and has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Several members of the La Giglia family have joined the armed forces, including John’s grandfather, Philip Steven La Giglia.
Earlier Friday, nearly 100 soldiers who'd also served in Afghanistan returned home and into the arms of loved ones.