Published December 11. 2012 4:00PM Updated December 12. 2012 6:11PM
Groton — Santa Claus parked his sleigh for the day in favor of a ride aboard a Los Angeles class attack submarine during his visit Tuesday to the Naval Submarine Base.
To the cheers of a crowd of military families, Santa stood atop the sail of the USS San Juan as it was guided by tugboats to its pier. The San Juan is home following several weeks of routine operations.
Families were welcomed to the base Tuesday not only to greet returning submariners, but to allow children to share their Christmas wishes with Santa.
Zoe Benfante, who was first in line to greet Santa, made a special request. She passed along a note asking that her father somehow return home in time to celebrate her fourth birthday Wednesday.
As luck would have it, Electronics Technician 2nd Class Anthony Benfante, Zoe's father, arrived home Tuesday, ahead of schedule, with the crew of the USS Mississippi.
After handing her note to Santa — also known as Chief Electrician's Mate Curtis Olson — Zoe was told to open the large gift-wrapped box at Santa's side. She flipped back the box top to reveal her dad crouched inside.
"Daddy, how'd you get in there?" was Zoe's first question before embracing her father in a hug.
It quickly turned into a group hug with his other daughter, 18-month-old Willow, and wife Tina.
"It's something she's going to remember forever," Tina Benfante said. "Santa brought Daddy home for Christmas."
The Navy also handed out nearly 1,000 toys Tuesday, donated by Operation Homefront, which in conjunction with Dollar Tree collected and distributed toys in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.
"This is a great opportunity to show appreciation for our military families, especially our children," said Jamie Biondi, commanding officer of USS San Juan and a father of four.
Leftover toys will be provided to the annual Caring and Sharing program and included in holiday food boxes to be distributed to military families.