Amanda Wart would have been content just to have her soldier boyfriend back home from Afghanistan.
But when he showed up with an engagement ring and got down on one knee to propose, it was a homecoming reunion she’ll never forget.
“I was completely surprised,” the 23-year-old Wart said after accepting Derek Bessey’s proposal Friday.
Bessey, 25, was among approximately 68 soldiers from the New York National Guard’s 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team who returned home to Western New York from demobilization at Camp Shelby, Miss. The soldiers had been deployed to various locations throughout the Middle East for a year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Family and friends gathered at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to welcome them back home.
“I’m just taking it all in,” Bessey said after Wart said yes.
The reunion and marriage proposal made for a very emotional afternoon for everyone.
“I’m happy. My daughter’s happy,” cried Wart’s mother, Debbie Brosig.
The couple met a couple of years ago at a local bar, and it turned out Wart’s mother and his father, David, once worked together at 3M’s sponge factory in the Town of Tonawanda, Wart said.
“So we actually may have met as kids at work functions,” Wart said.
Bessey, a North Tonawanda resident, decided about six months ago that he wanted to ask Wart to marry him. So he got in contact with George Fritz of Mills Jewelers on Main Street in Lockport. Fritz had designed engagement rings for some of Bessey’s friends in his unit, the jeweler said.
“Derek emailed me. We connected by video all the way from Afghanistan. He knew exactly what he wanted,” Fritz said, adding that the ring was completed about two months ago.
“He emailed me that he was so excited he couldn’t wait. We talked about how he was going to propose,” said Fritz. “I don’t often get to see the proposal. So this is really a very special experience for me.”
The jeweler brought the ring with him to the air base reunion Friday, and from there Bessey had everything all planned out.
“It went from just a thought to an idea,” said Bessey.
A couple of weeks before the big surprise, Bessey shared his plan with his mother, Jennifer Bartz, and made her promise not to tell anyone.
The night before he returned home with his unit, Bessey called Brosig to ask her for her blessing.
“I had a feeling he was going to do something like this because he texted me while I was shopping and asked if he could call me back,” Brosig said.
Later the two connected by telephone.
“He said, ‘I love your daughter very, very much.’ I said, ‘I know.’ Then he said he wanted to marry her,” Brosig reminisced. “And I told him that she needs somebody like him to take care of her.”
When the moment finally came, Bessey’s mother inconspicuously slipped him the ring as the two hugged. He then made the rounds greeting other family members and friends. But he saved Wart for last, giving her a big kiss and a hug.
When he popped the question, many of his fellow soldiers cheered for him.
“This is definitely something I was looking forward to,” Bessey said.
Wart lives in the City of Tonawanda and currently works at Wegmans. She has a degree in culinary arts and is finishing up a degree in hospitality management at Buffalo State College, Bartz said. Bessey will be going to the University at Buffalo in the fall to be a nurse practitioner or to study pharmacology.
“He’s become quite a man,” Bartz said of her son.