Homecoming: the Impact on Nebraska Veterans

Air Date: 11/10/2014

What’s the impact of a homecoming on a soldier – even decades after he or she returns from war?  We report on the effect not just war can have on veterans, but also the way they were treated when they returned home from war. 

We come home, people were throwing rocks at us, beer bottles, cans, spitting at us, calling us baby killers, women killers.  We was – we was treated worse than you’d treat dirt.
Ed Reinhardt / Vietnam War Veteran

From World War II veterans to those returning from more modern conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, those homecomings changed through the years as did our understanding of the impact they can have on veterans. 

I think it is the potential kicking off to something that could be very good for them and restorative.  Or if done badly, could cause pain for decades.
Dr. Krista Krebs / PTSD Specialist

We talk with veterans from different wars, as well as military experts and a psychologist to examine the issue.  We also look at a second homecoming some 60 years in the making for Nebraska Korean War veterans. 

I truly cannot remember other than maybe a very few of my friends and my family that really recognized that I’d been gone.  And no one, I can just tell you, absolutely no one said, “Lloyd, thank you for your service.”
Lloyd Hinkley / Lincoln Veteran

First Nebraska Korean War Veterans Heartland Honor Flight

The first Nebraska Korean War Veterans Heartland Honor Flight took place on October 29, 2013.  The day started around 3:30 a.m. on a wet, chilly fall morning as 135 Korean War veterans boarded buses outside an Omaha hotel.  For many the steps to the bus were the first obstacle in a nearly 20-hour day that would take them to see the Korean War Memorial, a monument to commemorate their service some 60 years ago. 

Most of the men on this Korean War Veterans Honor Flight were in their 80s. They were dressed alike, in donated blue polo shirts, blue windbreakers and black hats – all with insignias letting everyone know they’re Korean War veterans.  They had something else in common… They all were in combat.

Heartland Honor Flight co-organizers Bill and Evonne Williams of Omaha raised more than $1 million to take Nebraska World War II veterans to Washington D.C. to see their memorial. 

Bill Williams said when they were sharing the stories of those trips with a group of Korean War veterans, one of them asked him a very straightforward question.

“He said, ‘You and Evonne raised that money to take the World War II veterans and that’s wonderful, but when’s it our turn?’" Williams recalled.  "The answer to that is it is your turn.”

Williams said raising the money for this trip wasn’t easy. Neither was sorting through the more than 550 applications from Nebraska Korean War veterans and choosing just 135 to make the trip. Among the group – 26 who were decorated for their bravery, including 16 Purple Heart recipients.

Many of the veterans spent their time at the memorial remembering friends who never made it home.  They were some of the 36,000 Americans who died while serving in Korea. 

After a day touring all the memorials in Washington D.C. and watching the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, the veterans returned home to a hero’s welcome.

As a band played, family and friends lined the walkway in the Omaha airport terminal, cheering and waving American flags.  It was a welcome home many of those who fought in what’s been called “The Forgotten War” never got 60 years ago.

“They’re going to come back and they will make scrapbooks and they will bask in the glow of it all and it’s something that they’ll think about every day for the rest of their lives,” co-organizer Bill Williams said.

(Photos by Greg Grosse, News Reporter)

Second Nebraska Korean War Veterans Heartland Honor Flight

The second Nebraska Korean War Veterans Heartland Honor Flight took place on March 25, 2014.  Nearly 600 Korean War veterans from the state filled three large airplanes for the trip.  The goal was to allow these veterans to see the memorial in Washington D.C. built to honor their service.  This flight was the second for Korean War veterans and the ninth overall since the first flights for World War II veterans. 

Bill and Evonne Williams of Omaha got it all started in Nebraska. They coordinated the trips that have taken more than 2,000 Nebraska World War II and Korean veterans on a one-day tour of Washington D.C. The couple has spearheaded efforts to raise more than $1 million for the project.  Each Heartland Honor Flight has included a welcome banquet with entertainment for the veterans and their families the night before the flight departs. The day of the flight, veterans are often up by 2:00 a.m. and don't return back to Nebraska until close to midnight. 

The photos in this gallery are from the second Nebraska Korean War Veterans Heartland Honor Flight.  It also features behind-the-scenes photos from the production of the documentary "Homecoming:  The Impact on Nebraska Veterans."