By Paul Tennant
---- — METHUEN — Eight-year-old James Vallant said it was his “best Christmas ever.”
When James and his sister Arianna, 3, saw their parents, Army Sgt. Douglas Vallant and Army Pvt. Melissa Vallant, walk onto the stage at Tenney Grammar School late yesterday afternoon, they rushed into their arms. Sgt. Vallant scooped up James while Pvt. Vallant hugged Arianna.
The two soldiers had been away for training and were not expected to be home until after Christmas.
The several hundred people in the audience applauded. Just moments before their parents made their surprise arrival, James and Arianna took to the center of the stage and led the crowd in singing “Blue Christmas.”
James told them he expected to experience a blue Christmas because he wasn’t going to see his parents until after the holiday. Just then, an honor guard of veterans, police officers and firefighters marched into the auditorium and behind them cam James and Arianna’s mom and dad, dressed in U.S. Army camouflage.
“This is an incredible Christmas! This is a beautiful moment!” said Carol Couture, director of the Methuen Community Kindergarten. Couture and her staff organized the surprise visit of the Vallants. Arianna attends the school, which provides pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes and day care.
James said the visit was a complete surprise to him and his sister. Many of the Vallants’ family members, who stood on the stage with the guests of honor, were also surprised when they saw the guests of honor approach the stage.
James requested that the newly reunited family go out for ice cream.
During their parents’ absence, James and Arianna have been staying with their mother’s mother, Jeanette Lucas, of Methuen.
Douglas Vallant, originally from Haverhill and a 2002 graduate of Whittier Regional Technical School, has been in the Army for 11 years. He has served two tours in Afghanistan. He’s a forward observer, looking for enemy targets and directing artillery fire.
Melissa, a Methuenite, joined the Army five months ago. She is training to serve as a combat medic. Next month, Doug will report to his new assignment at Fort Lewis in Washington state while Melissa will undergo additional training. James and Arianna will accompany their father.
When asked why he joined the Army, Doug, whose grandfather served in the military, said, “I’ve never wanted to do anything but serve.”
“Someone has to protect the country,” said Melissa, a 2007 Central Catholic High School graduate. She was the 2007 recipient of the Max Bishop Award, which is given to the top three-sport athlete among local high schools. She starred in softball, volleyball and basetball.
The occasion for yesterday’s happy reunion was the annual Christmas Show produced by Methuen Community Kindergarten. Yesterday marked the 60th year the school has presented this event.