APPLETON, Wi. (WBAY) - Plenty of kids wrote their letters to Santa during the Light Up Appleton event downtown Saturday night. Some kids had lengthy lists for Santa, but others had one big gift on their mind.
“It’s really exciting for me to know that they’re getting like the biggest surprise of their life today,” said Mary Nieland, discussing her kids five-year-old Drake and three-year-old Harley.
Drake only wanted one thing from Santa: for daddy to come home.
Little did he know his Christmas gift was coming early. His father Sgt. Troy Nieland had been deployed in Japan for seven months, but came home and surprised the boys at the downtown event.
At first, Drake and Harvey couldn’t seem to believe it, but when they realized he was actually home they couldn’t stop smiling. Troy was overjoyed to see his boys again.
“I was pretty nervous coming in here, pretty excited, jittery,” said Troy. “But once I saw them it kind of all went away and it just, felt great.”
Troy and his wife Mary planned out the surprise with the help of friends and the Trout Museum of Art.
“Honestly none of it really felt real until right in this moment when I walked in the tent,” said Troy.
“I was shocked at how helpful everybody was,” said Mary. “Everyone was willing to go to the next step to make sure that we had this big surprise for our kids.”
Getting special moments like this with the kids is something Troy, as a marine, doesn’t take for granted.
“You don’t realize how much you miss until you’re gone for that amount of time,” said Troy.
But this holiday season the Nieland family will make new memories together, fulfilling Drake's wish.
“It makes me feel really good knowing that’s what he wanted, and we were able to make that happen,” said Troy.