American Heart: Maine Troop Greeters Honored

Every day inside a tiny airport in Bangor, Maine, two groups of unsung heroes meet -- the troops heading to or from Iraq and Afghanistan and the senior citizens who come just to greet them.

The greeters started at the airport during Operation Desert Storm, and since 2003 they've been on the ground to welcome every overseas military transport coming and going.

You can hear their cheers inside the terminal.

"Welcome home heroes," they shout. "We appreciate you!"

While they're there to cheer the troops, Bangor International Airport took time today to honor the greeters themselves for passing a major milestone. Last week, they greeted their millionth service member when a plane full of soldiers from Fort Carson, Colo., passed through Bangor en route overseas.

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Greeters Find Purpose by Cheering Troops

The airport held a special greeter appreciation ceremony today, and Bill Knight was one of those seniors honored. He's a feisty World War II veteran who dreams of deploying again.

"I'd go over there in a heartbeat," he said.

But the 87-year-old has enough to fight at home. He's fighting cancer, even as he drowns in debt and is hounded by creditors. Still, he is usually the first one at the airport every day.

"You only get so many days, and I may as well make the most of what I have," he said.

Knight can get emotional when he thinks about the daily greetings. The troops walk down a ramp to see the cheering crowd. They usually stop by a wall to honor those who didn't make it home, and then they're offered a free phone call.

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Those are the moments that make 78-year-old Joan Gaudet negotiate icy roads in the wee hours of the morning to get to the airport.

Her son, Aron Gaudet, saw his mother's tireless devotion, so he followed her to see what she was up to.

"It just seemed like such a simple act of kindness," Aron Gaudet said. "They constantly have the troops telling them how much they appreciate it."

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He was so inspired that he made a documentary about the greeters, called "The Way We Get By," now screening in communities around the country.

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"We were making the movie and we realized it was about more than just greeting the troops," Aron Gaudet said. "How much purpose it gave all the greeters."

The 60-, 70-, and 80-something greeters, though, aren't too sure about all the recognition.

"I don't feel like a hero," said one. "The troops coming and going every day, they're the heroes."

Sometimes, it takes a hero to recognize one.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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