Many more stood under a nearby aircraft hangar.
Some carried U.S. flags while others held “welcome back” signs. After an hour of waiting, the hundreds were pelted by cold rain moving into the area. And yet they were undeterred.
They had come from miles around to welcome U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Causey, 32, who was returning home to Oxford for the first time since he lost his legs in September while serving in Afghanistan. To some there, he was a brother, a son, a nephew or a friend.
To everyone else, he was simply a hero.
For Causey, looking out the window of his airplane and seeing so many people was humbling. He was not about to greet such a generous gathering sitting down.
“To see all those people out there, I wasn’t beginning to hop out in a wheelchair,” Causey said. “I said, ‘Put my legs on and let’s go.’”
And that is exactly what he did.
After maneuvering himself down a short set of stairs to exit the aircraft, Causey used his prosthetic legs and two canes to walk into the waiting arms of his parents and relatives while the several hundred in attendance cheered. He had only started to walk again just two weeks prior.
“You don’t know how much this support means,” Aaron’s wife, Kat Causey, told the crowd a few minutes later before bursting into tears of joy. “We read every card you send us. It’s overwhelming.”
Causey flew in Thursday from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he has been recovering since he lost his legs Sept. 7 in a blast from an improvised explosive device. He arrived courtesy of the Veterans Airlift Command, a nationwide volunteer organization that flies wounded soldiers home from medical facilities for free.
Causey plans to spend the Christmas holiday with his family before returning to the medical center Jan. 3 for more treatment.
Causey’s family organized the welcome home celebration weeks in advance, much to the surprise of him and his wife.
“I had absolutely no idea, no clue,” Causey said.
Kat was just as shocked.
“I expected a little something, but not this,” said Kat, who has been at her husband’s side through his entire recovery process.
Even Causey’s parents, who spearheaded the gathering, were deeply moved by the number of people who showed up.
“It’s beyond overwhelming,” said Aaron’s father, Jack Causey. “I think this is a wonderful tribute to our community and their support of our servicemen.”
Kathlene Ritten brought her husband and two sons to the airport to show their support for Causey and his family. Ritten said she had attended church with the Causey family for years.
“I felt like they were family,” she said.
Like the Causey family, Ritten was glad so many people came to the event.
“This is wonderful — I did not expect to see this many show up,” she said.
Crystal Greathouse and her father, Denver Woods, came from Lincoln to show their support for Causey and everyone else in the military. Greathouse served in the Air Force from 1990 to 2008 while Woods said he was a veteran of the Navy.
“We couldn’t have the freedom we have if not for people like Mr. Causey,” Woods said while huddled under an umbrella with his daughter.
Greathouse suspected Causey’s arrival might be too emotional for her to handle.
“I know I’m going to cry,” she said.
After Sgt. Causey spent about 30 minutes accepting gifts and well wishes, Oxford police officers and members of the American Legion Riders provided him an official vehicle escort home. He plans to spend the holidays relaxing with family. Aaron’s mother, Brenda Causey, said she plans to take good care of him.
“I’m going to feed him whatever he wants,” she said with a smile.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.