For Lance Corporal Mason Hoy and fiancee Katlynn Pratt, Christmas has come early.
"It means so much. He's been gone a long time. It's just great to have him home," Pratt told ABC7.
"So grateful that I have her. And just really appreciative of everything she does for me," Hoy said.
Mason, 19, who has been in Afghanistan since May, was greeted by Katlynn and their families Thursday at O'Hare.
"I was so relieved, so happy that God had taken care of him," said Jim Hoy, Mason's father.
But this holiday homecoming is extra special because Hoy and Katlynn are getting married next week.
These high school sweethearts got engaged last Christmas Eve and with Mason away at war. Their commitment has been tested.
"It was hard, but it was good because I knew I was planning it for him. And it was something special for us. And my family's been a big help, my best friends [are] my family. He was kinda there through phone, through letters. It helped a lot," said Hoy.
ABC7 first met 18-year-old Katlynn last summer as she and her mom were planning the wedding. Since she is a military bride, Al'amour bridal boutique in Barrington agreed to provide her a free gown as part of the Brides Across America program.
"What they are doing here is amazing. And it's a dream come true for her," said Cindy Pratt, Katlynn's mother.
On Thursday, the family unexpectedly met former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace as he was going through O'Hare. He presented them with a Marine coin, a symbol of honor and sacrifice. It was a fitting gift for this couple whose love endures.
"Definitely helped me stay focused, and just wanting to come home. Got me through it," said Hoy.
"It's been an amazing journey. I mean, to fall in love in high school, and for him to go away into the military was hard. It was hard on both of them," said Jo-Ann Lovergine, Katlynn's aunt.
Mason will be home in Ingleside for three weeks before heading back to his Marine base in Hawaii -- this time with Katylnn.