Marines surprised by warm welcome, first-class airline seats during stopover in Chicago

Marines returning to San Diego from Afghanistan

SAN DIEGO - Some involved in a heroes' welcome at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for a group of Marines spoke to 10News about the emotional experience.

On Monday, a group of Marines were on their way home from Afghanistan, stopping over in Chicago en route to San Diego. Nine of the Marines are based in Camp Pendleton; four Marines were heading to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

When their plane touched down, firefighters set up a water cannon salute on the tarmac. When the Marines got off the plane, they were greeted with applause and handshakes.

Marine Maj. Matthew Winkelbauer told 10News, "All we saw were ambulances, fire trucks, police cars with lights and sirens and we had noticed the LAX shooting and were concerned they were going to shut down the Chicago airport."

The fiancee of one of the Marines had phoned ahead, asking the USO to arrange for some famous Chicago deep-dish pizza for the group.

Instead, they were given a royal welcome and more.

Six first-class seats were empty and American Airlines upgraded them, as per company policy. That left three of the Camp Pendleton Marines still in coach, but only for a moment.

Linda Kozma, a military liaison for the airline, said that as soon as she picked up the microphone to announce their presence, other passengers showed their generosity.  

"People were very generous in getting up and approaching the agent, offering their seats up for upgrade to allow the Marines to all sit up front," said Kozma.

Lindsy Wadas of the USO was impressed, too, saying, "It always gives me goose bumps when we have so many people, especially when you get the public involved with it. It gets to be awesome; people do care about our military and want to welcome them."

Kozma could tell the Marines were appreciative.  

"Oh my gosh, they were ever so grateful. They asked if they could hug us, shook our hands, very thankful, especially after coming off a transport for five days. We will never forget them. It's something American Airlines obviously really promotes is our support of the military," Kozma said.

Winkelbauer summed it up: "That was just such a wonderful, touching experience. Again, people I don't know willing to give up their money just so my guys could have a more comfortable ride home from Chicago to San Diego."

The Marines have a few days leave then go back to work on Monday.

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