Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan land first in Bangor, Maine, often in the middle of the night. The documentary, “The Way We Get By,” captures this process and the people who make it a point to let our military know they’re appreciated.
The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will screen this warm-hearted bit of Americana on Saturday, Jan. 29, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
Director Aron Gaudet’s interest in the subject is natural, since his mother, Joan Gaudet, born and raised in Bangor, is one of the three greeters spotlighted in “The Way We Get By.” The viewer learns that Joan’s late husband served in the Korean War and she has two grandchildren about to be deployed. Along with fellow greeters Bill Knight, Gerald Mundy, and a team of others, she has been on call 24/7 since 2003 to meet the planeloads of soldiers arriving home from abroad.
Bill Knight racked up 32 years in the Army and Navy, so his appreciation of what “our boys” have been through is understandable. He shakes hands with each of the soldiers filing into the Bangor airport, the first point of debarkation for both returning and departing military. The number of soldiers has reached a million.
Remembering how unappreciated soldiers coming back from Vietnam were, Mr. Knight vowed not to let that happen again. His “prostrate” cancer doesn’t dint his enthusiasm. But we see that once his wife died from a heart attack, Mr. Knight has let the family cats take over and the empty cans of cat food pile up. He spends $250 a month feeding them and eventually moves into a trailer, putting his small farm up for sale.
“We don’t necessarily support why they got sent,” says Gerry Mundy, a retired ironworker. What counts is making a soldier smile, or handing them a cell phone they can use to call home. The greeters have also set up a wall with photos of fallen soldiers, so those arriving can look for lost buddies and scribble a farewell note.
“The Way We Get By” plumbs the sense of community in Bangor — the last Down East city heading north or east to the Canadian border — that inspires its elderly citizens to climb out of bed and show up at the airport. It also showcases their small-town lives.
Joan Gaudet, who takes 10 pills in the morning and 7 at night, suffers from back problems and worries about falling. Uncomfortable about war, she doesn’t like to see off the soldiers heading out. She makes an exception for her granddaughter, Amy, who is a medical helicopter pilot, and Joan joins the rest of the family for a teary farewell.
These good citizens, so many of whom are reaching the end of their lives, prove to be as much what “The Way We Get By” is about as the young soldiers returning from two of America’s longest wars. They deserve the tribute.
“The Way We Get By,” Saturday, Jan. 29, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards, a frequent contributor to The Times, divides her time between Northampton and Oak Bluffs.