Christmas came early for a Yaphank boy who wished to be reunited with his big brother, a Marine stationed in North Carolina whom he hadn’t seen in more than six months.
Luke Manuella, 8, a West Middle Island Elementary School third-grader, was sitting at a computer screen studying Australian vocabulary words just a few moments before the holiday break was set to begin on Friday when he got a tap on the shoulder. Luke, who was clad in pint-size military fatigues bearing his last name, barely flinched until the person behind him removed the young boy’s hat.
“Daniel!” Luke exclaimed as he climbed into the arms of his brother, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Sinkiewicz, 26.
The brothers embraced silently for nearly a minute as Luke’s classmates, teacher Maryann Corella and mom Grace Sinkiewicz watched.
Sinkiewicz said despite their age difference his little brother is “one of [his] best friends,” which is why he could overcome his shyness to surprise him in front of an audience.
“I’m not that big of a people person. It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s for my family, so you got to do what you got to do,” he said.
Emotion overtook Luke and he broke into tears when asked about his reaction. Sinkiewicz rubbed the back of Luke’s neck and told him that it was OK. Luke simply nodded when asked if he loved his brother.
“My teacher asked us what was we something we wanted for Christmas, and I said I wanted Daniel to come home,” he said.
“How many of you are so excited right now?” Teacher Maryann Corella asked the class. The students raised their hands in unison.
“I’m so happy for you Luke, you got your wish,” she said.
Luke and his brother occasionally attempted to communicate via FaceTime, but as Luke explained it: “Usually it doesn’t work, but sometimes it does.” They last saw each other for just a few days earlier this year, and Luke was not expecting his brother to return from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., for the holidays.
Family activities planned before Sinkiewicz’s Jan. 4 departure include a visit to the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead and fights with Nerf guns in the woods. He is expected to deploy to multiple countries in February for an undetermined amount of time.
Luke, the youngest of five children, said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his brother and his brother-in-law Kirk Wagner, who is also a Marine.
“He helps us and keeps us safe,” Luke said of his brother. “I want to be a Marine one day.”