BY JOE OLENICK
Niagara Gazette — GASPORT –– Five-year-old Madison Marciniak was in the Royalton-Hartland Elementary School cafeteria Friday with her classmates, making Christmas cookies and singing carols.
Then, the best Christmas gift Madison could've received walked into the room. Madison's eyes lit up and a smile crept over her face as she ran over to put her arms around her father.
U.S. Army Sgt. Timothy Marciniak bent down to one knee and embraced Madison. As they did, Madison's friends started singing, "We Wish You A Merry Christmas."
"I was overwhelmed," her father said. "I thought it was going to be a little thing, this was exciting."
Marciniak has been serving in Qatar for about a year. Qatar is a Middle East nation that borders Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, it also is home to three U.S. bases. Marciniak returned home three days ago.
He arrived at Roy-Hart Elementary in Gasport on Friday afternoon with his wife, Brittany. While the kindergarten classes were in the cafeteria for a holiday celebration, the rest of the school lined up in the hallways leading up to the cafeteria. The kids sat on the floor, then got up and cheered when music started playing and Marciniak made his way to the cafeteria.
Marciniak was led by two students holding an American flag and an Army flag. His mother and Madison's grandmother Lani Marciniak waited near the cafeteria door, with camera in hand.
"I had no idea it was going to be like this," Lani said.
The whole encounter lasted minutes, but there weren't many dry eyes in the building. Actually that was true for most of the day leading up to Friday afternoon, said Principal Donna VanSlyke.
After the embrace, a few people and kids went up to the Marciniaks. They welcomed the sergeant and thanked him for serving his country. Madison was very happy but didn't speak, rather keeping her face buried in her father's chest and neck as he held her.
After Friday's event, a tour of Mrs. Katie Fisk's kindergarten class was next for the Marciniaks. A couple of times Marciniak tried to put Madison down, but the daughter wasn't about to let go.
Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.