HASTINGS, Nebraska — A parade featuring a firetruck, police cars and a convertible carrying the honored guest was part of the Hastings hometown welcome for a U.S. serviceman.
Airman 1st Class Ryan Fitzgerald traveled for 24 hours from South Korea to land in Omaha and then journey to the south-central Nebraska city to join the small procession on Wednesday. The parade route was filled with people waving at him and yelling their greetings.
"It was shocking," Fitzgerald told the Hastings Tribune (http://bit.ly/11KCE3E ). "I didn't know what was going on. It got me very caught up (with emotion.) You don't realize how big of an impact you make until you see everybody at home."
His grandparents Dave and Patty Hellbusch drove over from Albion to welcome him, too.
"He looks great," Patty Hellbusch said.
She told The Associated Press on Friday that the parade was normal for Hastings officials and residents.
"They just do this when one of their citizens comes home," she said.
Heather, Ryan's wife, told the Tribune that from the moment she saw her husband at the airport in Omaha, everything was right again. She's happy to have him back but also dismayed that he must return in less than a month to his post in South Korea.
"At least he will be back home in November," she said. And she can look forward to his next posting, which will be in Japan, where the family can be together.
Airman Fitzgerald said he planned to relax while in Nebraska.
"I might have a beer, hang out with my wife and my two boys," he said.
He's grateful for the elaborate welcome arranged by so many people.
"God bless you, and go America," he said.
Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com