A group of 13 Marines received a warm welcome at O'Hare International Airport, where they were given a salute and an upgrade to first class.
While sitting in the USO of Illinois Lounge around 6 p.m. on Monday, American Airlines manager Linda Kozma, who works with the Veteran Military Employee Resources Group, learned that a group of 13 Marines making a five-day trip home from Afghanistan would be passing through O'Hare bound for San Diego.
A Marine's wife had called the USO, hoping that perhaps the organization could get the Marines some Chicago pizza or Champagne upon arrival. With a limited window of time, Kozma and other volunteers scrambled to give the Marines a warm welcome.
"The city aviation department came in, firefighters, and police," Mary Frances Fagan, a spokesperson for American Airlines, told ABC News.
The fire trucks sprayed arches of water over the arriving plane in a water canon salute as it taxied. Then, American Airlines personnel and others greeted the Marines when they came off of their flight from Baltimore, forming a corridor of applause.
"We want these kids coming home to realize that they haven't been forgotten," said John Colas, a 74-year-old former Marine and USO volunteer, in an interview with the Associated Press.
Once the group made its way to the next gate, strangers also expressed their support for the Marines.
"American Airlines has a policy of upgrading military personnel if seats are available," said Fagan. "We had six first-class seats free already. But then Linda got on the PA and explained to those in the gate area that she hoped they would help her welcome the returning Marines."
Seven passengers volunteered to give up their seats so that all service personnel could ride in first class to San Diego. Kozma told Fagan that the soldiers were very grateful and appreciative of all the effort taken on their behalf.
"While they didn't get the Chicago pizza and Champagne, I can tell you there is no doubt that in first class they were served whatever alcoholic beverage they chose," said Fagan. "They were greeted in style and escorted in style and people honored and recognized them for their service."