As snow fell in Chicago Heights on Saturday, thoughts of Afghanistan were far from the mind of Lance Cpl. Christopher Mann of Chicago Heights. He was home, for now.
With sirens blaring, two Chicago Heights fire trucks, one carrying Mann, were escorted by Chicago Heights, Olympia Fields and Park Forest police to the American Legion Post No. 1198 along Western Avenue.
Waiting for Mann were friends, family, veterans and even strangers willing to hold flags in the cold to welcome a hometown hero. As Mann jumped off the fire truck, he was greeted with applause and hugs. A party was waiting inside the legion post.
Once inside, Mann noticed a cake with a military photo of him smiling back. He grinned.
"I was completely surprised," Mann said. "My mom told me we were going out to dinner."
People lined up next to the podium to talk about this Alum, a lifelong Chicago Heights resident who made it back. David Monty from the 80th District of the American Legion, ruffled his paper and paid tribute to Mann.
"The 80th District of the American Legion is humbled and proud to be part of this," Monty said. "What this man has done was not just for his country, but for his family, his friends, his God and the rest of the free world. It does not matter what the intentions were when Chris joined the marines, it does not matter whether the wars in which he engaged in were wrong or right. What matters is what he did."
A few more speeches were given before it was time for Mayor David Gonzalez to give him a gift from the City of Chicago Heights. Gonzalez presented Mann with a plaque from the city council, the city clerk and the city treasurer. He also made a declaration about the day Mann returned home.
"I, David Gonzalez, Mayor of Chicago Heights do hereby proclaim Saturday, March 3rd as Lance Corporal Christopher Mann Day," Gonzalez said.
Between the applause, Mayor Gonzalez thanked Mann in his own words.
"On behalf of my family, my wife and children, we want to thank you for helping to provide the freedom we enjoy so much in the greatest country in the world," Gonzalez said. "Because of soldiers like you that allow us to enjoy this freedom that so many take for granted. From the bottom of my heart, thank you very much."
Anthony Marmo from Warriors Watch Riders then presented Mann with honor beads, and Denny Tobleck from Oak Forest, representing Soldiers Guardian Angels, gave him a certificate along with hugs.
Before Mann took time to eat, he talked about how happy and surprised he was. "This was really nice for everyone to come out and support me."
Mann returns to Afghanistan in a month, but Patch readers can still support him. What is one of his favorite things to get from home, you ask?
"My favorite thing to get from home is homemade peanut butter oatmeal cookies," Mann said. "Thank you to everyone, it means a lot."