Surprise gathering at airport greets Marine
The scene is the same on nearly every flight.
As soon as the pilot brings the plane to the gate, passengers rush to get off. They have bags to pick up, taxis to catch and meetings to attend.
But not on Southwest Airlines Flight 3545 on Tuesday morning.
When the passengers saw a group of Marines in dress uniforms standing at the gate, they realized the young man on their flight was somebody special.
So nearly every one of them turned around and waited for him.
Staff Sgt. Jesse Cottle was the last person off the plane because he needed a wheelchair.
"It was pretty incredible," said Cottle's father, Dave. "They clapped and shook his hand. One woman was so overcome, she couldn't say anything, so she just hugged him."
This spontaneous show of appreciation was just the beginning.
Cottle, a Marine, lost both his legs - above the knee - when a bomb exploded beneath him in Afghanistan on July 19.
He has been in hospitals in Afghanistan, Germany, Maryland and San Diego, where he has undergone six surgeries.
Tuesday was Cottle's first chance to get back to his parents' home.
The young man, 24, has never lived in Phoenix because his parents moved here after he had enlisted.
Still, a friend of his mother decided that it would be nice if people were there to greet him. So she sent e-mails to veterans' groups, prayer groups and other organizations.
"I just want to make sure he gets the hero's welcome. Because he is not coming home with his unit," Heather Mack, the organizer, said. "He is coming home alone."
At first she was concerned nobody would come.
But people started arriving about 30 minutes before the plane landed.
They formed two lines right where passengers leave the gate area.
They held signs and waved flags and waited to erupt, despite the fact that none of them had ever met the Marine.
"Don't know him at all," said Bernard Kaplan, 80, who fought in Korea. "You never know who is going to be out here for these men. I just wanted to make sure there was at least one person here for him."
He need not have worried.
Approximately 150 people stood and waited for Cottle.
As he rounded a corner, Cottle saw what awaited him. His father, who was pushing him, slowed down so he could take it all in.
Cottle shook hands with everybody. He met them and thanked them, a look of surprise and appreciation on his face.
Some of the old-timers saluted and some of the women bent down to hug him.
Finally, Mack handed Cottle the microphone attached to the karaoke machine she had brought from home.
"It goes without saying, thank you very much," he said.
"This means so much to me. I was raised a humble person, so this is very strange for me."
After a week at home, Cottle will return to the Naval Medical Center San Diego where he will receive his prosthetic legs and learn how to walk.
His mother said after that he may take some time off from the Marines to get a college degree.
"He is very bright and has a lot of energy. A high-octane person," Peg Cottle said.
"He has a magnetic personality. People are drawn to him. Both before and after. Nothing's really changed."