SOUTH SIOUX CITY | A little more than 60 years ago, Dick Leitschuck came home from Korea.

There were no parades. No ceremonies.

That was due in part, he said, to the then-new practice of rotating troops home individually once they earned enough service points. Rather than returning as a unit, soldiers got off trains and buses back home one by one.

"So when we got home, there wasn't any big reception for us. The only people here for us were our families," Leitschuck said.

Without fanfare, Leitschuck went back to college, earned his agriculture degree from the University of Nebraska and was a district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service in Dakota County.

The 81-year-old South Sioux City retiree is like most military veterans from his generation: polite, unassuming men and women who went overseas, served their country and resumed their lives after returning home.

That doesn't mean they're opposed to the adulation that was heaped on them Tuesday.

Leitschuck and 134 other Nebraskans flew aboard the Korean Veterans Honor Flight, an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to see the Korean War Veterans Memorial. While there, they also visited the World War II and Vietnam memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.

But maybe the most stirring part of the daylong trip was its ending. This time, their return wasn't so silent.

A band played as the veterans walked into the Omaha airport. In addition to waiting family members, they were greeted by cheering volunteers with banners.

"We got the welcome home we never had before," said Leitschuck, his eyes moistening.

It's popular to refer to Korea as the Forgotten War. It gets few pages in history textbooks, but what a history these veterans can tell.

A Burchard, Neb., native, Leitschuck shipped out for Korea on April 24, 1953, five days after marrying his wife, Elizabeth. He didn't hear her voice again for 16 months. What he did hear during that time was the pounding of 105 mm howitzers as a member of Battery B, 980th Field Artillery Battalion, attached to the 40th Infantry Division. Artillery units fired millions of rounds almost daily in support of infantry soldiers on the front line.

"They were trying to push the North Koreans to the peace table, so we hit them day and night," he said.

After the June 27, 1953, cease-fire, Leitschuck spent another year in Korea, just in case hostilities resumed. He spent one year, 11 months and four days in the Army.

On Tuesday, it was almost as if the veterans had returned to Korea for one day. Conversation died down as their bus neared the memorial.

"It was somber, very emotional. It brought back memories for a lot of them that were sorrowful," Leitschuck said.

The memorial, with its 19 statues depicting soldiers in rain ponchos on foot patrol, was powerful, Leitschuck said. The war is not forgotten by those who fought in it.

"They called it the Forgotten War," Leitschuck said. "A lot of people thought it wasn't necessary that we were there. When we stopped the North Koreans and Chinese at the 38th Parallel, that was to stop communism from spreading throughout the globe."

On Tuesday, Leitschuck and his comrades mustered under peaceful circumstances. All were guests of honor, given a trip they might not have otherwise taken.

The veterans all were grateful for the generosity of the trip's organizers and donors, Leitschuck said.

At day's end, it was the veterans who were receiving gratitude.

It may have been 60 years coming, but their welcome-home tribute was well-deserved.

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Court reporter

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