By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, September 7, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News]
(Editor's Note: This is the second of a two-part series of articles about the Pease Greeters.)
PORTSMOUTH -- They span the generations, from the very young to wizened Senior Citizens. They come from any number of towns and economic backgrounds, as individuals and families and in groups, civilian and military, active duty and retired.
They gather at the air terminal at Pease Tradeport at various appointed times for one specific reason: To heartily and warmly welcome the men and women of the United State military passing through Seacoast New Hampshire, either for deployment overseas or heading for home sweet home.
They are the Pease Greeters, and together these volunteers perform a special sort of duty while lining the terminal corridors — better known as the "Heroes' Walk" — whenever a flight comes in with American troops, whatever branch of the military it may be.
Offering applause, hugs, pats on the back, high-fives and encouraging words, the Pease Greeters have for the last couple of years welcomed more than 110 flights and thousands of troops at any given hour of the day or night.
They provide their guests of honor an assortment of refreshments and free telephone calls, photo ops and prayers, music and special salutes. Most of all they offer their heartfelt welcome and appreciation to those who bravely serve and protect America.
And they do it time and time again with joy, enthusiasm, respect and pride.
Take Anna Labrie, [photo above], who turns 87 on September 9. The sprightly Kittery resident estimates she has attended scores of Pease Greeter flights, and has a small collection of military dog tags to prove it. She also has a dozen or so uniform insignia patches, given by the troops, attached to a lampshade at home.
Anna looks forward to attending as many flights as possible, saying "I wouldn't miss it if I could help it." Twice widowed, she says that "being here with the Greeters has given me something to live for."
That sentiment is shared by Anna's daughter, Gail Hartranft. "I love it; I just feel so good when this happens," Gail says. "This makes you feel warm all over."
Junious and Bette Owens of Stratham play an important part of the greeting process, setting up drinks, snacks, candy and gum in the common room and personal items in the restrooms — all completely available to the visiting troops.
"It's such a privilege for us to do it," says Bette, who says she is "very impressed with the quality of the military these days. They're sharp, they're brave, they're dedicated — it's a great bunch."
Eight-year-old Christopher Scamman of Stratham says his favorite part of a Pease Greeter event is "when I see the troops. I feel special and protected." And when the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron flew in recently on its way from Iraq to New Hampshire to Arkansas, Max Sirmaian, 7, greeted the troops with a red, white and blue poster reading "Welcome home! Thank you!"
"We just want to give thanks to our troops," says Max's mother, Ilysse, adding that this was the first time the Sirmaians took part in an official greeting.
For Helen Gagnon of Dover, being a part of the Pease Greeters for the past year or so has been "very, very rewarding. It's my way of saying 'thank you.'" She recalls a time when one of the troops, overcome with the emotion of the moment, "was crying her eyes out," says Helen. "I grabbed her and held her for a few moments until she got composed."
Community groups, such as the Scarlett O'Hatters, for example, often sponsor the troop visits, which that Portsmouth-based chapter of the Red Hat Society did just a couple of weeks ago.
"It's a very rewarding experience," says Scarlett O'Hatters President Barbara Puma. "We really feel we want to thank the troops. They're very brave."
Cindy Blodgett of the Seacoast Republican Women says she loves being a Pease Greeter. She calls the experience "very gratifying" and says meeting the troops face-to-face can be "very emotional." Blodgett adds, "I'm so glad that so many people come to support the troops. We have to thank them for their service."
Dean and Rosemary Staples' son, Dane, is a 28-year-old Army Specialist serving in Baghdad, having joined at the height of the war when it first began. Supporting the troops as a Pease Greeter with his son in Iraq is "the least I could do," says Dean. "We had a patriotic desire to do it. It just makes you feel so good."
For Rosemary, putting her thoughts and feelings into song help to express her pride in America and its military: "Land of my birth, the greatest country on earth. White, blue and red, where my forefathers bled. We labor and toil, we fight for this soil. In liberty we stand on this ground that we tred."
Hampton resident Ralph Fatello, the commander of American Legion Post #35 is currently in the process of filming a documentary about the Pease Greeters. A Marine Corps Veteran, Fatello has captured about a half-dozen Greeter events and conducted interviews with the troops. "It's neat listening to their reactions," he says.
Then there is Ed Johnson, Commandant of Seacoast Detachment, Marine Corps League. With their red uniform caps, white shirts and blue trousers, Ed and his fellow Marines are easy to spot. These tireless patriots are always on board at all Pease Greeter events, working behind the scenes as well as at the forefront.
Needless to say, there are many special individuals who take time from their days and nights to fulfill their commitment as Pease Greeters — military Veterans who fought in the South Pacific, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. The retired Air Force pilot in his 80s who flew 50 missions over England before he was 21 years old. A Green Beret and a grandmother or two — or more.
And it doesn't matter whether a Pease Greeter is a Democrat or Republican, a conservative or a liberal, a civilian or a Veteran, male or female, young or old — together they are Americans welcoming Americans, greeting them in the name of honor, pride, patriotism and gratitude.
Be a part of it. To find out more about the Pease Greeters and how to get involved, visit http://peasegreeters.org. To support the Greeters Fund, checks made out to "Pease Greeters Fund" can be mailed to Ed Johnson, Commandant, P.O. Box 178, Rye Beach, NH 03871. To support the Seacoast Detachment Marine Corps League make checks out to "Marine Corps League" and mail to Marine Corps League, 238 Deer Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801.