WEST LIBERTY, Iowa-- Dozens of people turned out to First United Church in West Liberty Friday, February 15 to welcome home three special veterans.
The veterans, Fred (96), Bob (93) and Walt (94) Lehman, served their country more than 70 years ago during World War II, and they've only been away from home for two days. Their mission was visiting the World War II Museum in New Orleans.
But their family, friends and the West Liberty police and fire departments wanted to do something special for them.
"Pretty much everyone knows them," says Ann Currie, the daughter of Fred Lehman. "They all have a great sense of humor. always have a story or two for you. Just so grateful that they chose to recognize these guys."
The Lehman brothers were surprised when they pulled into town and saw red and blue flashing lights.
"Like a dummy, I thought, 'There's a heck of a wreck. We can't get to town like we're supposed to,'" Bob says.
But it didn't take long to realize the surprise everyone had planned. They were escorted by police cars and fire trucks to the church and greeted by a long line of grateful friends and relatives.
"Just overwhelmed, really," Walt says. "What an honor this has been really."
They were given stacks of letters written by students and people grateful for their service. A class of students even made tie blankets for each brother with the emblems for the branch of the military they served with.
"It's surprising," Bob says. "Very surprising. Appreciate it of course, but they're doing too much for us."
The trip to New Orleans was covered by Vizient, a company West Liberty resident Jim Brooke works for. The company's national meeting was in New Orleans this year, and Brooke helped coordinate the trip for the brothers.
There, Bob, Fred and Walt got to see a brick at the WWII Museum with their names written on it.
"We've had a good time being together the last two days," Walt says. "Just overwhelmed. really. What an honor this has been really"
Fred says he remembers when the war started. He says his teacher brought a radio into his high school classroom and they listened to Hitler talking.
"And we listened to him ramble on and on. And that's how it all started. It's been a long time," he says.
Fred would go on to serve with the Marines from 1945-1946. Bob would also serve in the Marines from 1944-1946, although he was rejected at first because he tried to enlist when he was just 17, a year too young for service.
From 1944 to 1946, Walt served in the army in Okinawa, Japan. He remembers going into combat and how he was injured by a grenade explosion while taking control of a hill.
"I got wounded on May the 5th in 1945," he says. "Spent 56 days in the hospital. Got the purple heart."
75 years on, these brothers say they're lucky all four siblings, including their older sister Wilma who's 97, could see this day.
"God's been good to us. Really good to us," Bob says.