True meaning of Christmas found in family's magical reunion

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Whenever I think of the true meaning of Christmas, I’m always reminded of what happened in one second grade classroom outside Raleigh, North Carolina. 

It was 2011 and the guy in the Santa suit had given every one of the students the exact toy they asked for in their letters.

Every kid, that is, but Bethany Arnold, who refused to ask for a single toy. “Dear Santa,” her letter read, “my daddy is in Iraq. Could you bring him home for Christmas? That would be the best gift of all.”

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Bethany’s letter to Santa

CBS News

Although Bethany acknowledged she was asking for something kind of tough, “Well, it’s tough to go around the world in one night,” she said. “And I’ve never wanted anything more than that.”

Bethany’s dad Wyndal Arnold was a contractor in Iraq, repairing the country’s electrical infrastructure.

“I understand that he has to stay and help people, but I do miss him a lot” she said.

Last time they saw each other,  they exchanged key chains. She carried his, while 6,000 miles away, he held onto hers.

“I told her, I said the next time I see you I’ll give your heart back,” Wyndal said.

Unfortunately, bringing two hearts together at Christmas isn’t always a government priority. Which is why Bethany had decided to appeal to a higher authority: Santa. She even asked him again at school.

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Bethany meeting “Santa” in 2011.

CBS News

“Santa, for Christmas, I want my dad to come home,” Bethany said.

And that’s when her wish began coming true. That’s when she got heart back, and that’s when I got my reminder of what this weekend is all about.

“Daddy!” she said as she recognized him.

There’s not a toy in the workshop that ever got that kind of reaction.

“Are you sure you don’t want something else?” Wyndal asked.

“I’m just so happy that you’re home,” Bethany replied.

Not a bow big enough to wrap the joy.

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Wyndal and Bethany in 2016

CBS News

Since this story first aired, Wyndal is now back for good. He says he missed his family too much to stay away another minute.

Proving the only thing better than a dramatic homecoming is a family you know will always be there.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.