SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (KABC) -- While most restaurants in San Clemente are closed on Thanksgiving, H.H. Cotton's is packed with special guests: U.S. Marines.
Owners Chris and Maureen Aitken have been serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal to Marines from Camp Pendleton for the last six years.
"Most of them are away for Thanksgiving for the first time in their lives," Chris said.
"We love doing it with our kids," Maureen added. "We have kids that have gone away to college and everybody comes back and comes together, and I think this event is really symbolic of San Clemente."
The Aitkens said it's a way to show their appreciation to these service members who are making a sacrifice to serve this country.
"After this event we get letters and calls from moms and dads across our nation, really thankful that they had their first Thanksgiving here," Chris said.
Also, the restaurant raffles off prizes donated by the community.
For these Marines, it's a heartwarming event that makes them miss home a little less.
"It is nice to be surrounded by people who are going through the same thing," said Justin Harrison, who enlisted in the Marines less than four months ago. "Obviously we want to go home for families, eat with them and have fun with them, but given our situation we aren't able to do that."
"To me they're not just friends, they're family. It's a brotherhood," first-year Marine Ethan Brooks said. "That makes it way easier to be separated from family for a little bit."
"Maybe it isn't expressed to them through their paycheck or their daily lives, but we are very grateful," Maureen said. "San Clemente love its Marines, and we will always be there for them."
The Aitken's plan to host another big Thanksgiving meal next year, but they're also looking at ways to help military service members all year long.