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January 25. 2014 7:47PM

Mission accomplished: Returning Marine surprises Dad at breakfast


Marine Lance Corporal Steven Joyce, 28, embraced his father Paul Joyce, a retired Marine from Bedford, during a surprise reunion at Poor Boy's Diner in Londonderry Saturday morning. The younger Joyce recently returned from a four-month deployment in Afghanistan. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

LONDONDERRY - Some secrets are worth keeping.

For the past two weeks, the friends and neighbors of Bedford resident Paul Joyce worked on one very special mission: to surprise the Marine veteran with an unexpected visit from his son, Steven.

It was no simple task.

Marine Lance Cpl. Steven Joyce, 28, a member of the 1st Combat Engineers, 1st Marine Division, had been deployed to Afghanistan since September, but unbeknownst to his father, he returned to the States this month.

"I enlisted my team," said Rose Hodgdon, a neighbor and close family friend.

So before the sun rose on Saturday, Hodgdon was driving to Boston's Logan International Airport to meet the young Marine as he arrived from Camp Pendleton, Calif., while another group of friends whisked the elder Joyce off to Poor Boy's Diner in Londonderry.

Paul Joyce, 50, was halfway into his first cup of coffee when his son, clad in his Marine dress blues, strode into the dining room.

"Hi, Dad," he said.

Months of separation faded away as the two Marines embraced, the proud father wiping away the tears that began to flow so freely. A small audience of fellow diners and friends clapped.

"I had no idea this was happening," said Paul, who'd spoken to his son on the phone early last week and was under the impression Steven wasn't coming home until late April.During Steven's deployment, Paul managed his son's bills online. About a week ago, Steven changed his banking password so his father could no longer trace his son's actions."I told him my account had been frozen," the younger Marine said. "Those two weeks of little white lies were well worth it.

"He's done a lot for me," Steven Joyce added. "He deserves this."

"So, does this mean your account isn't really frozen?" his father said with a laugh.

Paul Joyce, who served in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm as well as in Beirut, reflected on how times have changed and how emails and Skype sessions have replaced envelopes and stamps.

"Communications are a lot easier now than they were back in my day," he said. "I spent just about every holiday away from home. This experience sure brought back a lot of memories."

A proud Marine family, Steven's sister, Kelli Joyce, is a sergeant in the Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2, 2nd Marine Division. Sgt. Joyce has completed three tours in Afghanistan and is now based out of Cherry Point, N.C.

Steven is the family's most recent Marine, having enlisted just two years ago. His recent deployment was his first, though not likely his last.

"They're a very proud family and really take pride in serving and protecting our country," said Patty Gale, a planning and zoning assistant for the town of Bedford who got to know the family over the holiday season when she was putting stars on the town's Christmas tree in each Marine's honor.

Paul Joyce said it's a huge relief to see his son in person, noting that things have recently heated up in Afghanistan's valley region.

"You go in there and do your job, you do what you've been trained for," he said. "But when you're the parent, things are a lot different.

"I'm so glad he's home now," said Paul Joyce.

Lance Cpl. Joyce will be in the Granite State for several weeks before returning to California.

Father and son will be spending plenty of time together until then, visiting with friends, going to the target range and simply enjoying each other's presence.

AGuilmet@newstote.com


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