Milton Lowman, tough ex-military man and normally cool Defense Department employe, was as jumpy as any expectant father.

All he could say as he hopped from foot to foot, eyes riveted on the debarking plane passengers, was, "Great, great, oh boy, I feel great, yessir, this is the greatest, no doubt about it . . . "

Other people hanging around Gate 1 at National Airport Wednesday night had the look of bored travelers, listlessly flipping through magazines and waiting to take off on one more humdrum business trip. But for Lowman, 34, his wife Huetta, and four other couples, the occasion was the happy ending to months of difficult waiting and a grand moment in their private lives.

Northwest Airlines Flight 004 was bringing home their babies.

The couples -- most of whom are infertile -- had decided last year to adopt homeless South Korean children rather than wait the 5 to 10 years it might take to adopt a healthy American infant.

Since it was established three years ago, the Adoption Service Information Agency (ASIA), a private nonprofit organization, has brought about 300 South Korean babies to families in the Washington area.

Traditionally, regulations concerning foreign adoptions are dictated by that country's government, said Mary Durr, ASIA's casework supervisor. South Korea, where abortion is illegal, birth control minimal and adoptions uncommon, has allowed Americans to adopt its homeless children, in increasing numbers, for more than 20 years. As fewer American babies have been available in recent years for adoption because of more abortions and less stigma attached to unwed motherhood, agencies have looked to other countries, such as India and Taiwan, for adoptable babies, Durr said.

For the parents of the four girls and one boy who arrived Wednesday, the last few moments, while the plane emptied of other passengers, were the hardest.

Jim Carr, a machinist from Courtland, Va., waited for his son -- proudly clutching a new blue diaper bag in one hand and hugging his wife Bertha with the other. The Carrs applied for their baby last August. In the months that followed, they opened their home to social workers who did a thorough review of their lives, received a photograph and history of their child and paid a $5,000 fee, which included transportation expenses and administrative costs to the South Korean agency that works with ASIA. Then, they got to the fun part -- buying stuffed animals, toy trucks and tractors and a baby book to fill with the endless snapshots Jim Carr planned to produce with the camera dangling from his neck.

"I've been around little nieces and nephews," said Carr, eyes not leaving Gate 1. "But I've never kept a kid 24 hours, 'round-the-clock before. This is going to be a big change for us -- we've lived alone for 14 years -- but we're ready."

Suddenly, the Carrs and the other couples surged forward as three ASIA caseworkers and volunteers appeared with five babies in their arms.

"That's him, that's my baby," said Jim Carr as he and his wife both tried to hold 10-month-old Thomas Lewis Carr. The baby stared at them curiously as they cooed at him and gently kissed his forehead. A relative snapped endless pictures. "I love him," Bertha said.

Penny and Norman Klink of Gaithersburg huddled around 7 1/2-month-old Andrea Hye-Young Klink, pulling a new soft-pink sweater onto her chubby arms. Christina, 8, hovered helpfully, patting the baby's back, but 5-year-old Robert soon tired of the excitement. "Daaaad," he said, pulling on his father's jacket, "can I speak to you privately? . . . Let's go home."

Milton Lowman's face shone as he reached for his daughter, Shannon Sue, but crumpled into a hurt expression when the baby took one look at him and began to cry. "It's the moustache," he said, kissing the child's fingers while she looked at him doubtfully. "You'll get used to me, baby, yes you will. Yesssssssss, you're a sweet girl. I'm your daddy, did you know that?"

Huetta Lowman, 39, also an employe of the Defense Department, bounced the baby on her knee and searched in her bag for a cookie. "I can tell right now," she said, "that I'm going to have to be the disciplinarian."