(CBS) – Some elementary school students in Hoffman Estates gave a huge welcome home Friday to their pen pal: a recently returned Army sergeant who had been stationed in Iraq.

A third-grade class at Frank C. Whitely Elementary School had written letters to Capt. Chris Allen at the urging of a classmate whose father is also in the service. Other students joined in, and Allen responded to all 85.

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The Peoria native just finished his third deployment to Iraq and thought he was going to talk to his pen pals.

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Instead, he got a full, patriotic assembly. They covered the walls with cards and filled the aisles with students and teachers, hoping to give their hero a big welcome home.

Mission accomplished.

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“I hope the kids got a sense of patriotism and what it is for people to serve,” Allen says.