Marine mom gets surprise of a lifetime, just in time for the holidays

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Michelle Civiello thought her son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dana Stevens, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, would not be home for Christmas — until she received an unexpected surprise. Julie Manganis/The Salem News (TNS)
Michelle Civiello thought her son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dana Stevens, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, would not be home for Christmas — until she received an unexpected surprise. Julie Manganis/The Salem News (TNS)

Marine mom gets surprise of a lifetime, just in time for the holidays

by: Julie Manganis | .
The Salem News | .
published: December 24, 2016

SALEM, Mass. — For weeks, Michelle Civiello kept busy.

For the first time ever, her son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dana Stevens, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, would not be home for Christmas. The thought weighed on her.

She threw herself into organizing a Toys for Tots collection at the Ruane Judicial Center in Salem, setting up donation boxes in the Superior Court clerk's office, where she works, and in the district attorney's office.

It was a way of giving back — and of feeling closer to her son through performing a service of her own for the Marines' annual holiday toy drive.

She set up another box at the Gannon Golf Course clubhouse in Lynn.

The drive was wildly successful, and last week she dropped off 500 toys at the Lynn Fire Department, where her father was a firefighter.

But when it was over, "I was like, 'what now?'" said Civiello. The past couple of days were hard.

A Trace Adkins song, "You're Gonna Miss This," came on the car radio Thursday morning and set her to tears. She posted a photo of her with her son on Facebook, commenting, "I knew when he joined it would be hard, I just didn't realize how hard."

A few hours later, Civiello, of Salem, was at her desk in the courthouse when her daughter came in. That's not unusual.

Then, her 22-year-old Marine walked in.

Civiello nearly fainted, she said shortly after the surprise visit. "I thought I was going down."

There were hugs, and tears, and not just from Civiello and her children — her co-workers and her boss, Essex County Clerk of Courts Tom Driscoll, were overjoyed as well.

Stevens, it turns out, had been planning his return in secret for months, requesting leave and looking for flights. Just a few relatives and friends knew what he was up to. But they were sworn to secrecy.

He arrived back in Boston late Wednesday night after a 27-hour trip, and spent the night at a friend's house.

"He and I had been texting all day," said Civiello. But he never let on that he was just a few minutes away, she said.

"I'm always the one planning the surprises," said Civiello.

But not this time.

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