DUBLIN (CBS SF) — The day will be etched in Brendon, Ethan and Caleb Nelson’s memory for the rest of their lives. For the last 364 days the only contact with their Navy father, Darren, has been through the viewer of an i-Phone. On Thursday, their dad surprised them at an assembly at Dublin’s Murray Elementary School.

School officials were in on the surprise, calling the students to an assembly to honor first responders and military veterans. Once assembled, teachers invited the students who had family members in those professions to come onto the stage.

As the Nelson brothers stood together on stage, their father quietly crept up behind them.

Tears, hugs and smiles were aplenty as the boys realized their hopes and dreams of their father’s return from an overseas deployment had come true.

“It (surprising the boys) was just pure elation,” said Nelson as he stood outside the school, his sons hugging him tightly. “At the beginning, behind the curtain, I was just trying to make sure my hand would stay steady enough. I knew my boys were just on the other side. So I was really excited.”

“That was one of the best moments of my life,” he added. “I’m just excited to be home with these guys.”

Nelson arrived in the Bay Area at 9:50 p.m. Wednesday and stayed at a nearby hotel to prepare for his surprise reunion. He was deployed with the Africa Command in Djibouti at the time that al-Shabaab rebels attacked a Kenyan Defense Force Military Base in Manda Bay. Three U.S. servicemen died in the attack there.

In the joy of the moment, Nelson remembered his three fallen comrades.

“That’s a key facet of every serviceman’s heart,” he said. “We get to come home and we have to live that whereas the true heroes don’t. That’s really hard, we definitely lost folks. We lost three Americans on January 5th in Kenya. That was a very hard circumstance, especially for all the families…At the same time, like I’ll get deployed and I’ll go away, but my heart stays here…The true sacrifice is made by those who do not return.”

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