Supporting The Troops In Bangor, Maine

There are some folks in Bangor, Maine who’re….well, I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say this is a great story. In fact, I’d actually call it “heart warming” or the “feel good story of April” if those terms hadn’t been forever ruined by being applied to countless crummy, touchy feely movies. Take a look:

“BANGOR, Maine — Tired and bleary-eyed, Marines of the 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., were finally back on U.S. soil after seven months on the front lines in Iraq.

But they were still many miles and hours from their families and the homecoming they longed for. Their officers told them they would be on the ground for 60 to 90 minutes while their chartered plane was refueled.

So they disembarked and began walking through the airport terminal corridor to a small waiting room.

That’s when they heard the applause.

Lining the hall and clapping were dozens of Bangor residents who have set a daunting task for themselves: They want every Marine, soldier, sailor and airman returning through the tiny international airport here to get a hero’s welcome.

Even if the planes arrive in the middle of the night or a blizzard, they are there.

Composed mostly from the generation that served in World War II and Korea, they call themselves the Maine Troop Greeters. They have met every flight bringing troops home from Iraq for nearly two years — more than 1,000 flights and nearly 200,000 troops.

“Here they come. Everybody get ready,” said Joyce Goodwin, 71, her voice full of excitement, undiminished by the hundreds of times she has shown up to embrace the returning troops.

As dozens more Marines came down the corridor, the applause grew louder and was accompanied by handshakes, hugs, and a stream of well wishes: “Welcome home.” “Thank you for your service.” “God bless you.” “Thank you for everything.”

Faces brightened. Grouchiness disappeared. Greeters and Marines alike began taking photographs. The Marines were directed down a corridor decorated with American flags and red, white and blue posters to cellphones for free calls to family members.

They found a table with cookies and candies. Plates of homemade fudge circulated.

…The airport gift store opens early. T-shirts saying “I Love Maine” are popular. So are adult magazines. The store takes military scrip from troops low on cash, even though there is no way for the store to get reimbursed.

…Kay Lebowitz, 89, has such severe arthritis that she cannot shake hands. So she hugs every Marine and soldier she can. Some of the larger, more exuberant troops lift her off the ground.

…Most of the greeters support the U.S. mission in Iraq, but their goal is historic, not political. Discussion of politics is banned. The greeters don’t want America to repeat what they consider a shameful episode in history: the indifference, even hostility, that the public displayed to troops returning from Vietnam.

“I think there’s a lot of collective guilt about the ’60s,” said greeter Dusty Fisher, 63, a retired high school history teacher now serving in the state Legislature.

…Marjorie Dean suffered a fatal heart seizure while she and her husband, Bill, were on their way to meet a late-night flight a year ago. She was 79.

Goodwin missed three days of flights when she was in the hospital for heart surgery.

“I felt like I was in withdrawal,” she said. “It was awful not being able to be here for the boys.”

Bill Knight, 83, one of the group’s organizers, came to the airport just hours after his doctor told him that he has advanced prostate cancer. “It never occurred to me not to come,” said Knight, who served in the Army and Navy for three decades.”

What a great story!

Hat tip to Q&O Blog for the story.

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