Soldiers returning from the gulf war are leaving Operation Desert Storm behind only to be confronted with Operation Discount at home.

In a homecoming frenzy not seen since the close of World War II, American merchants are showering returning soldiers with special offers and discounts that range from car rebates to free tickets to major league baseball games."We felt a need to do our part to thank military personnel for their actions," said Delta marketing representative Michael Pewther.

So Delta is offering all military personnel - including reserve and Guard members on active duty - a 70 percent discount on coach fares to anywhere in the country between now and Sept. 30.

"It's just a small token of our appreciation," Pewther said.

Whatever the motive, merchants of everything from beer to clothes to theme parks are showering discounts on military personnel more voluminous than ticker tape in a New York parade.

Other airlines followed Delta's suit, slashing coach prices for military families that present military ID cards. Three Salt Lake-area Brooks stores offer 10 percent off all clothing to those with military IDs.

Firestone will give a free lube, oil change and filter to those who served in the gulf. Ford promises to sell new cars to military personnel at no more than 3 percent above dealer cost.

Not all discounts may be as generous as they seem. Most airlines offer discounts close to 70 percent to military personnel anyway, Pewther said. And when the Deseret News called Butterfield Ford to ask about Ford's discount, the sales manager said, "Lady, in this market, I'll sell anyone a car at 3 percent above dealer cost."

It's the thought that counts, but Utah merchants have been slow to publicize that thought. Most Utahns aren't aware of the discounts.Delta's Salt Lake office and Morris Travel said they have received no inquiries about the airline discount.

A Salt Lake Chrysler dealer reports no takers yet on Chrysler's offer of a $500 rebate to all gulf personnel on the purchase of a '90 or '91 Chrysler. The certificate of rebate is being mailed to the homes of all returning gulf personnel, said Ben Solomon, Chrysler's regional manager.

"We haven't had a soul ask about it yet," said Craig Rigby, sales manager for Rick Warner Chrysler. "I don't think the word is out yet. Besides, not too many people have returned yet, and their spouses won't be thinking of new cars until they get home."

Families aren't alone in their ignorance. With new discounts popping up each day, many sales representatives don't know about the discounts their own industry offers. According to an article in USA Today, the entire Hawaii tourism industry is offering half-off packages to those who served in the gulf. Gov. John Waihee asked hotels and local airlines to slash 50 percent from their prices, the story said. Yet Mark Slack, president of Morris Travel, knew nothing about the Hawaii discount.

"Any discount we haven't heard of, we'll check out," he said. "And if we can get it for them, we will."

Many state tourist attractions offer discounts to their own returnees. The California wine country is mailing discount offers to gulf soldiers returning to northern California. But the Utah tourism industry has no such plans, said Joe Rutherford, spokesman for the Utah Travel Council.

Not even a free run down a snowy mountain. "I don't know what to tell you. Discounts for gulf soldiers has never come up," said Mark Menlove, spokesman for the Park City Ski Area.

So buy a Chrysler - or a Delta airline ticket - and go see the rest of America. And don't wait too long. Chrysler's rebate is only good until May 31. Most airfare discounts are good through September. Other discounts could lapse as soon as the country's patriotism wanes and domestic woes engage it again.

But for now, soldiers are returning to a mood of gratitude and euphoria that hasn't gripped the nation since 1945. It's a more jaded euphoria. There are no homecoming songs promising "love and laughter and peace ever after . . . ."

But then WWII soldiers didn't get free seats at a California Angels game or free tickets to the Universal Studio theme park.

When compared to a half-off package to Hawaii, what's "peace ever after" anyway?