August 2010 Update
POV: Can you give us an update on Bill, Jerry and Joan? How have they been doing since we saw them in the film?
Aron Gaudet: They are each a couple years older, but still doing pretty well physically, and still greeting troops every chance they get. They continue to be a real inspiration to us in their commitment to being at the airport day after day. Also, they’ve been able to travel all across the country with The Way We Get By and enjoyed some pretty incredible experiences — a trip to the White House, a trip to a star-studded Hollywood event to accept AARP’s Movies For Grownups award for Best Documentary of 2009 and a photo spread and article in People magazine. It’s been a pretty busy and whirlwind year for the three of them.
POV: What is the current count for the number of troops greeted in Bangor, Maine?
Gaudet: I put a call into Joan (my mom) for this one… The very latest update has the troop count at 1,075,000+ and growing — she said a flight is due in later this afternoon.
POV: Joan’s involvement in the Maine Troop Greeters was the genesis for the film. How did she first get involved with the organization?
Gaudet: As Bill says in the film, the first flight came through on May 3rd, 2003. She got involved greeting troops a few months later, in the fall of 2003, when a friend invited her to accompany her to the airport. One flight and she was hooked. After that, she got on a call list and started going to flights 24/7. It was a pretty instant addiction.
POV: What was the most surprising thing you learned during the process of making The Way We Get By?
Gaudet: When we look back at the last five years, I think what we value most is everything we learned about ourselves through the process of making the film. We learned a lot as filmmakers, but Bill, Joan and Jerry also taught us so much about life, and what is important in life. But maybe the most surprising thing was having a group of wedding vendors all come together to give Gita and I a dream wedding on the coast of Maine. To have people support the film and us in such amazing ways continues to surprise us.
POV: Has your film and the Maine Troop Greeters spurred other troop greeter groups to organize in other parts of the country?
Gaduet: This is one of those things that is kind of hard to track. We’ve certainly been contacted by a lot of people who have been inspired by The Way We Get By and were looking for more information on greeting troops in their area. Luckily, we have a great relationship with the USO and many other volunteer organizations across the country — so we’ve had the resources available to point them towards. I’m hoping the film has at least inspired many others to seek out opportunities within their communities to volunteer.
POV: How will the anticipated troop withdrawals — next month in Iraq and next summer in Afghanistan — affect the schedule for the troop greeters?
Gaudet: The Maine Troop Greeters are already very busy greeting troops. Multiple flights come into the Bangor International Airport nearly every day. Troop withdrawals may make for some busier flight schedules, and even more troops coming through, but I’m sure the troop greeters are up for the challenge. They’ll never complain about having too many troops coming home to greet. They’ll just need more cookies.
POV: Are you taking Joan to the Emmys? If so, who will she be wearing?
Gaudet: We’re not sure if Joan or the guys will be able to make it to New York City for the Emmys. But if she does make it to the award ceremony, she would be wearing whichever designer is the first to design an evening dress with a large American flag on the front. She would definitely want to still show her patriotism and support for the troops!
POV: What are you working on now?
Gaudet: In many ways, The Way We Get By still keeps us quite busy. The development and launch of our companion online resource The Returning Home Project has been very time consuming. Also, we are releasing a 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD of The Way We Get By in November loaded with special features and updates. In addition, we are developing a few different documentary and narrative projects with the hope of going into production on one of them by the end of the year.
November 2009 Update
What is the history of the Maine Troop Greeters? Was it an organization that existed before you joined? How many Troop Greeters are there now? Have you seen a lot of additional volunteers stopping by because of the film?
Bill Knight: A group of veterans and I decided to do something for the troops back in the first Gulf war and so we decided we would go to the airport and meet each flight and that was how it all started.
Jerry Mundy: There are roughly 200 troop greeters on the list and a core group of 30 who come all the time — day or night — to the airport.
Joan Gaudet: The Maine Troop Greeters exist before I joined. In terms of whether there are additional volunteers — there was a couple who saw the film in New York City and I got a message on Facebook from the wife who told me she was going to be in Maine and wanted to greet troops. So I added her to my call list, and sure enough she and her husband came. She was able to spend time with the troops and do things she saw in the movie. I thought that was neat.
Read more about the history of the Maine Troop Greeters.
What does troop greeting mean to you? Why do you do it?
Bill: When our boys came back from Vietnam, there was no one there to greet them. That’s a horrible thing, you know. And it stays with you. Myself and a group of other veterans promised that if we could do anything to help the troops from that point forward, we would. And given that they came into Bangor, we said that we need to be there for these troops so that each one of them knows that we appreciate their service. I do it because someone has to. So why not me?
Jerry: We just want the men and women serving our country to know that there are people — peope they may not know — who are here to say we are thinking of you. Who wouldn’t want that…I know I sure would. It just makes me feel better and it’s payback for the troops that have done so much for me. It’s a privilege.
Joan: It gives me a great feeling to greet the troops. It means a lot to tell them how much I appreciate what they are doing for us and our country on their return, and to tell them to stay safe on their way over and that we will be there waiting for them on their return. I do it also because when I leave the airport I feel like maybe I helped make someone’s day a little better.
Having greeted over 900,000 troops, are there any particularly memorable soldiers or moments that stick out?
Jerry: There are a whole lot of stories. I don’t know if I can just pick one. I mean…the Marine who gave me the coin — you see that in the movie — well, he really touched me. He told me keep this until he came back and I told him I wouldn’t remember him and he said I will you. And it’s been a long time since he should have returned and I still have the coin. So I am hoping that sometime, somehow, we will meet again and I can give him his coin back!
Joan: There are so many its hard to pick . I guess the best ones for me are when there are family members there with us to greet them home — I love that. I’m sad when families are seeing them off, but still happy that they got a chance to see them for that short time — it means a lot.
Bill: Every greeting is special to me.
Talk about some of the experiences you have had touring with the film. We know that several audience members have met you at airports across the country to say goodbye and wish you a safe flight! What has that meant to you?
Bill: Well, it’s a great feeling to know that there are people out there who understand the importance of what we do. It’s a wonderful feeling to see how people are responding to what Aron and Gita created.
Jerry: It has been an awesome experience! Words can’t express what I feel. I mean it’s a life changing experience…all of it. I feel like I don’t deserve it but I like to say: this is my 15 minutes of fame and I’m eating it up! It’s an amazing feeling to know that people connect with us in such a meaningful way — how can I explain that? I’ve gotten calls from people I haven’t heard from in years….long lost friends and relatives who have called to say how proud they are of me. I mean…ah it’s just so neat.
Joan: I’ve had a great time going around with the film. The trips have all been nice but I guess the Washington D.C. ones were probably the best for me. We screened at Capitol Hill, met Dr. Jill Biden; the next day we went on a tour of the White House and had an unexpected 30 to 45 minute visit with Vice President Biden. I got a hug from him! I never ever dreamed that would happen to me in my lifetime. We also visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and that visit meant a lot to me. It really brings home what all the servicemen and women do for all of us.
What does the film mean to the three of you? What was the greatest satisfaction you gleaned from being a part of it?
Jerry: This is something that my family will always have — and I am so lucky to be a part of it. When Aron and Gita told me they wanted to film me, I said what the heck, sure. I never would have thought it would turn out the way it did. They did a superb job and we are proud of them. They are a part of my family now and I’m so lucky to know them.
Bill: I think they did a great job making the film and I am proud to be a part of it.
Joan: I hope it brings attention to all the troops serving our country and keeping us safe at home. I hope it makes people think about what their loved ones go through while they are gone.
What do you hope PBS viewers get out of watching The Way We Get By? What do you hope they do after watching the film?
Bill: Well, I would hope they would go out and find something productive and meaningful to do that not only helps them but also helps their communities.
Jerry: I think our service members need our help — and if we can find ways to tell them we support them, then I think that is a day well spent. So hopefully people will go out in their communities and find ways to involve themselves with their own local troops. Volunteering has changed my life and I found out I can be a better person by doing something for someone else.
Joan: I guess I hope people discover that even though they may be getting older they can do things to help others, and find something to keep themselves busy for a good cause. I hope they find something in their area for them to volunteer.
Find out how you can volunteer in your area on this Interactive Map.
Finally, how can viewers and civilians show their support to veterans and seniors?
Bill, Joan, and Jerry ask that if you want to show your support, donate or volunteer at local veteran and senior organizations in your community. Find more information on organizations in your area on this Interactive Map and learn more about ways to volunteer on POV’s Support Veterans and Senior Citizens page.