A group of Marines on their way home from Afghanistan got a big welcome at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
A group of 13 Marines were treated as heroes on their trek home. After spending five days transferring flights to get to the other side of the globe, they were greeted by a small crowd of police, a fire truck water salute and first-class plane tickets, the Daily Mail reports.
A retired Marine and others made sure the Marines were given an appropriate greeting and sendoff as they made the final leg of their trip to San Diego.
The Marine were given a water salute as their plane landed and taxied under an arch of water from fire department hoses. The Marines then walked into the terminal and were given a warm greeting from a crowd of cheering USO volunteers, firefighters, police officers and airport workers.
When the Marines boarded their last flight to San Diego, they found that American Airlines had six empty seats in first class for the Marines. Even more became available when seven other passengers volunteered to give up their first class seats for the remaining soldiers. The Marines got to enjoy leather seats, more legroom and state-of-the-art headphones on the way home.
"It was incredibly touching," Captain Pravin Rajan said according to the Daily Mail. "Afghanistan is a very complex and ambiguous war ... and a difficult thing to keep track of so it is amazing when we are 10 years (into) a war and there is still that kind of community, that level of support, the level of willingness to go out of one's way."
The greeting was organized with a phone call by Stephanie Hare, an Illinois native who works in England. She called the USO and O'Hare and said that her fiance, Rajan, who had been serving in Afghanistan, was on his way to the airport from Baltimore with the group.
"I just thought if they could get them some Chicago pizza, champagne or something, that would mean a lot," Hare said according to the Daily Mail.
However John Colas, a 4-year-old former Marine USO volunteer picked up the phone. He told Hare that he'd try to organize something in the hour before the flight landed, but he wasn't sure if he could pull it off on such short notice.
He quickly called the police and fire departments, the airlines and others.
"There must have been 15 Chicago firemen and an equal number of Chicago police and they formed a corridor for the Marines when they got off the airplane," Colas said.
Rajan said the Marines didn't know what was going on at first when they looked out the window and saw the fire truck. "For a second, we were like, 'Are we in trouble?'" he said.
Once they realized what was going on, they were grateful for the welcome.
"They were just so thankful - very, very appreciative," Linda Kozma, an American Airlines employee who helps military personnel told the Daily Mail.
Hare didn't know what Colas had pulled off until the next day when she heard a voicemail from Rajan explaining what had happened. "I just thought it was really beautiful," she said.