Chuck Knowlen, chair of the Maine Troop Greeters, said his group has two main objectives. One is to continue greeting each troop returning to the U.S. from overseas at Bangor International Airport with a handshake, a smile and sometimes a hug, something he and hundreds of volunteers have done for more than a decade.
In the long term, Knowlen wants to get the word out and the funds together to build the Maine Troop Greeters Museum at the airport. The group, which has greeted more than 1.4 million troops at BIA since it started in May 2003 and was the subject of a 2009 documentary, “The Way We Get By,” is asking for help to make that dream a reality.
“We have many, many precious things we’ve been given by the troops over the years, and we want to make sure that all that wonderful stuff is on display for everyone to see,” said Knowlen. “When people come to Bangor, we want this to be on the list of things they have to see.”
After shaking the hands of a number of returning troops on Tuesday afternoon, the group officially kicked off its fundraising effort to permanently display the countless items of memorabilia it’s members have collected over the years, including individual patches naming each troop from Maine killed in action in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plaques, letters, coins, medals flags and other tokens of appreciation from both service members and the community.
Machias Savings Bank provided the first donation, and representatives from the bank were on hand to present Knowlen and the group with a check for $2,500.
“This is just a small token. … You can’t go anywhere in America anymore, and say you’re from Maine, without people saying ‘My brother, my sister, my aunt, my son, went through Maine,’” said Machias Savings Bank Vice President Jim Donnelly. “This is the least we can do to say thank you.”
A fraction of the Maine Troop Greeters’ collection is on display at the airport in a tiny room jammed full of items. But with the planned museum, the full array of memorabilia will be able to be seen by all. The museum will be installed along the corridor connecting the international arrivals area to the main terminal at BIA.
“It’s all come from the troops. It’s really the history of what we’re doing here in Bangor,” said Knowlen.
While Knowlen and the the Maine Troop Greeters have not set a specific timeline as to when the new museum will be installed, they are hoping that in the coming months, the community will come through with more donations.
“This is only the beginning,” said Knowlen, a 20-year U.S. Army veteran who earned the Silver Star in Vietnam and has been a troop greeter for seven years. “This donation from Machias Savings is the first, real, good-sized donation we’ve gotten. … I’m very excited about all this, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. But I know this community is going to come through for it.”
To donate to the Maine Troop Greeters effort to install a permanent museum at BIA, visit themainetroopgreeters.org and click “How to help.”