(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.

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

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.

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