“I walked through airports in 1968 and was greeted a lot differently. I wanted to be here today to see these soldiers welcomed home properly,” said Carl Andrews of East Corinth.
Andrews was among the hundreds of people who gathered at the Bangor International Airport on Friday to welcome home some of the first U.S. troops returning from the Middle East.
Three planes carrying servicemen and women from the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., the 1st Infantry Division of Fort Riley, Kan., and the USS Mercy Medical Unit, arrived at BIA and were greeted by enthusiastic, flag-waving crowds.
It was an emotional day for everyone who crowded inside the terminal to participate in the fanfare.
The people came from various walks of life and had their own personal reasons for being there, but there was one common theme — to show support for U.S. troops.
Vietnam veterans wanted to make sure that the soldiers who fought in the Persian Gulf war knew they were appreciated.
“This time it’s going to be different,” one man was overheard saying.
Andrews, deputy chief of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, held an American flag and stood quietly in the terminal for several hours before he made his way to the front line and shook the hands of some of the soldiers that passed by. The band played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Andrews saluted to the soldiers. It was an emotional moment that Andrews would not soon forget.
Some people at the airport did not know anyone in the armed services but just wanted to be there to show their support.
David Walsh of Bangor went home from work at 1 a.m. Friday with no intentions of going to the airport to greet the returning soldiers. When he got home he turned on the television and watched members of the 82nd Airborne Division arriving home to Fort Bragg, N.C.
“I didn’t go to bed. At 5:30 (a.m.) I woke up my wife and kids and said `Come on. We’re going to the airport,”‘ said Walsh.
Walsh’s two children were a little baffled by the idea and asked about school.
“I said, `Never mind school today. This is history and you will never forget this day,’ ” he said.
Within minutes of arriving at the airport, the entire family was wrapped up in the fanfare and the feeling of patriotism that pervaded the terminal.
Glenda McCarron of Bangor has a son in Saudi Arabia and said she had to come to the airport Friday morning to “see each and every one of them.”
McCarron said she hoped her son would be greeted with the same enthusiasm wherever he landed.
Sandra and Irving Spencer of Bangor said they were “tickled that the war was as short as it was.”
The Spencers were overwhelmed by what they felt when they saw the soldiers get off the planes at BIA.
“We felt patriotic and just decided to come over here and show our thanks to these guys,” said Mrs. Spencer.
When asked about the traffic congestion around the airport, Mr. Spencer said, “Quite a minor problem compared to what these guys have been through.”