Documentary Celebrates Maine’s Soldier Greeters

Posted October 1, 2009 at 4:55pm

Battling their own declining health and personal tragedies, senior citizens in Bangor, Maine, have taken on a difficult job: Around the clock, they greet more than 900,000 soldiers who come through a small airport in their town.They’re called the “Greeters of Bangor— and they say that their work is a way of giving back to American troops for their service and dedication. On Wednesday evening, the honor was returned to them at a documentary viewing hosted by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in the Capitol Visitor Center. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joseph Biden, gave the introductory remarks. “The Way We Get By— is a poignant and soul-inspiring documentary that illustrates how two different worlds confront their mortality through courage and the power to transform lives. Directed by Aron Gaudet and produced by Gita Pullapilly, this American love story unfolds at Bangor International Airport, the easternmost part of the United States that accommodates transatlantic flights. The airport is the last stop before U.S. troops deploy for war and the first stop on American soil when they return. The documentary follows the lives of three senior citizens — Bill Knight, 87; Joan Gaudet, 75 (the mother of director Aron Gaudet); and Jerry Mundy, 74 — who suffer enormous personal trials with bouts of cancer, disease and loneliness. “My life don’t mean much to me, but I hope it can mean something to others,— Knight says in the documentary. He adds that he believes that he “has outlived— his “usefulness individually— and that “helping people puts a little meaning back into my life.—Knight is a retired Vietnam veteran whose impetus for becoming a greeter was the “raw deal— that he felt was given to those who served in Vietnam. He believes the government didn’t show the troops appreciation for what they had done and vowed that would never happen again.Fighting prostate cancer, a tumor in his ribs and jaw, and the constant loneliness after the death of his wife, Knight feels that he’s “just a citizen of the USA— and has “fulfilled his citizenship to the fullest.—“I only get one day at a time,— he said, “so I make the most of each one.—Likewise Mundy shares a similar sentiment. “Everybody has trials and tribulations,— he says. Mundy doesn’t believe in worrying about the uncontrollable things in life. Mundy shares what he views as the two great experiences we all have — birth and death. “Everything in between those two experiences is what we make it,— he says. Mundy suffers with heart problems that doctors only seem to be able to medicate. The documentary reveals that after greeting thousands of troops with cookies, cell phones and brilliant smiles, Joan Gaudet finds she must face the deployment of her own two grandchildren.The documentary draws parallels between the worries that come with aging and those that come from the battlefield. One soldier says through his tears, “When you are asleep and the world around you explodes, how do you explain that to someone?—A poignant moment toward the end of the film shows two soldiers who had just come home from war making angels in the snow just outside the airport. But it’s the angels inside the airport and the sacrifices that they’ve made, that really stand out in this story.