Yesterday I traveled back home to San Diego from the Richmond, Virginia airport. As my plane in Richmond (on Delta Airlines) started to board, the gate crew started the usual drill.
First they called “preboarding” for those people needing some extra time. A few elderly folks slowly made their way on board, followed by one very harried-looking mom with five little ones (the oldest couldn't have been more than eight).
Then the gate crew called for “first class” to board. At that point, one of the passengers (a middle-aged man) walked up to the gate crew and said something I couldn't hear – and next thing I heard over the speakers was “Wait a minute – I just found out we have uniformed military traveling on this flight. All uniformed military, please board.”
A single young soldier, dressed in camoflauge and carrying a huge seabag, walked up to the gate. He looked tired. The people around me all jumped up and started applauding, spontaneously. One of the gate crew grabbed his seabag and carried it on board for him. The young soldier didn't seem to hear the applause at first, but then suddenly turned around and looked at the people waiting at the gate – and broke into a beautiful wide grin, saluted us, and then spun around smartly and marched on board.
I shall remember that grin for a long, long time...