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Welcoming Home Our Soldiers At The Bangor Maine Airport--Greeting The Heros
How Do You Thank A Hero
Yesterday I had the honor and the privilege to greet and welcome home a contingent of American soldiers returning from Iraq.They were members of the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I felt privileged, and humbled, to be given the opportunity, to personally thank and shake the hands of more than one hundred and fifty soldiers that had just landed at the Bangor, Maine airport after a very long overseas flight from Baghdad . Meeting the soldiers, at the airport, were the Bangor Greeters club. This club was formed in May 2003 and have met over 4000 flights of returning soldiers. Their mission statement promises that all returning flights of US military personnel, landing in Bangor, will be welcomed home by members of the group regardless of circumstances, weather or time. Someone would always be there, at the airport, to greet and thank the troops.Greeting the troops this way began in Bangor during the first gulf war in 1991 and continues to this day. They are a wonderful organization made up of veterans, concerned citizens and ordinary folk who understand how much all of us owes our soldiers.
While I am not a member of this group I was present on the upper level of the Bangor Airport when the soldiers began filing into the terminal and a rousing cheer and applause broke out upon their entrance. The soldiers entered the terminal, moving in single file, by way of a long hallway. Waiting, in anticipation, along both sides of this hallway were two lines of greeters. Without any hesitation or even thinking about it I found myself at the end of one of the lines and began shaking hands with each soldier and thanking them for their service. It was an incredible moving moment for me. I had seen these ,homecoming greetings, on the local news before but the experience itself is so moving and rewarding that a tv report cannot portray, the emotion of, what is happening. if you ever get the opportunity to do this please stand in line and do it. You will be glad you did.
Very quickly I realized my wife and her aunt had joined me at the end of the line and were also shaking hands and welcoming the soldiers home . As I looked towards the end of the line where my wife and her aunt were the scene was surreal. You knew that you were witnessing one of those special moment that occur in your life. One that would become etched into your psyche and you would never forget. At the very end of the line was my wife's aunt. This 4'10" ninety-three year old great- grandmother, the same woman who has trouble walking or standing for any length of time, was shaking hands with each and every soldier who came down the line.A couple of soldiers stopped and bent down to hug her . It was a moving and special moment. With tears on her cheeks she stood shaking hands and greeting all of them, It was not until she had shaken hands and welcomed home the very last soldier in the line that she would agree to be helped back to her seat to sit down and rest.
After we had returned to our seats in the waiting area my wife, her aunt, and I shared with each other our feelings about what we had experienced..We all knew something very special had just happened. We were all very grateful to be allowed to take part in this important ritual. We all agreed that the soldiers were so young looking. We also agreed on how amazing modern day warfare really is. It was startling to realize that less that 24 hours before we shook their hands these soldiers had been in Iraq. and less than a few days before that they had been on patrol in a war zone defending themselves, the Iraqis and all of us as well. It is a humbling thought to realize that these men and women volunteered to put themselves in harm's way for all of us. How do you repay someone for that kind of service to their fellow citizens. I really don't have an answer to that.
Throughout the generations young men and women have sacrificed themselves for freedom and their country. For most of us our knowledge about war comes from books, tv and movies. We learn the history and the facts but we can never know what really happens at the personal level, during war, to these men and women who serve. Only those that serve have the knowledge of what war is truly like and what serving in a war zone entails and maybe that's the only way it can be.
If we ,as a society, find ourselves under attack or an international threat looms on our horizon it will be these dedicated men and women of the military that we will send to defend us. While we may disagree, amongst ourselves, on the political reasons or who is or isn't telling the truth these soldiers will not hesitate in their service to their country. They will go forward into harms way to fight and yes even, sometimes, to die for their country....for us. We do them such a dishonor when we forget about them and their sacrifice while we argue and bicker amongst ourselves.
How do you thank a Hero? I started with that question and I must confess I still do not have an adequate answer. I don't know how you thank a hero. I will continue the search because I believe the answer is important. The men and women of our military deserve no less. In closing let me offer this advice. If you see a soldier at the airport, train station, bus depot or on the street corner stop and shake their hand and thank them for their service. You will be rewarded with a bright wide smile, a firm handshake and a warm feeling that will stay with you for a very long time.