Thirteen Marines heading home from Afghanistan were given an impromptu hero’s welcome at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport earlier this week — a surprising honor that included cheers, a firetruck water salute and the ceding of several first-class tickets by other passengers.
The Marines were on the final leg of a journey that included five days of boarding and exiting various planes and were first recognized by a firetruck water salute as their plane taxied toward the terminal, The Associated Press reported. A crowd of cheering USO volunteers, firefighters, police officers and airport workers then greeted them inside the building, AP said.
American Airlines then upgraded six of the Marines’ tickets on a San Diego-bound flight to first class — the last of the available seating in that section, AP reported. Seven other first-class ticket holders immediately gave up their seats, though, and traded down so the Marines could all sit together.
“It was incredibly touching,” said Capt. Pravin Rajan, speaking to the AP by phone from Camp Pendleton in California. “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.”