PALM DESERT, Calif. -

A family went to the mall to get Christmas pictures taken with Santa over the weekend, but they ended up leaving with a holiday surprise that should live on forever in their minds.

Airman Nhavi Mendoza's family had no idea they would see him for Christmas. He's been stationed overseas for the past six months. Officials with Westfield Palm Desert said his family was actually getting photos with Santa so they could mail them to Nhavi for the holidays.

Nhavi's parents, wife Elizabeth and his 3-year-old son Renaldo were all at the mall for the photo shoot.

When Santa asked Renaldo what he wanted for Christmas, he said "Blocks and
my Daddy," mall officials said.

At that moment, Nhavi burst out of a giant gift box and was reunited with his
family. Hundreds of people who were shopping, or waiting in line for Santa, cheered for the Mendozas.

Nhavi and his wife Elizabeth were in tears.

"It's an honor to serve my country, but I miss my family so much," said Nhavi. "This couldn't have been a better present for all of us."

Images: Airman father gives family Christmas surprise

POSTED: 10:48 AM PST Dec 23, 2013    UPDATED: 10:49 AM PST Dec 23, 2013 

A family went to the mall to get Christmas pictures taken with Santa over the weekend, but they ended up leaving with a holiday surprise that should live on forever in their minds.

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