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`Thanks for a Job Well Done'

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SPRING comes late to this part of Maine, and though winter has not been particularly harsh this year, its dismal remnants remain in the shape of dirty piles of snow, slowly turning to rivers of mud. Meanwhile an economy which even in good times is a survival economy in Maine has been bleak as a result of the recession that has particularly blighted New England.

But at the Bangor airport there is no gloom, no depression, no mood of recession. What is going on here, hour after hour, right around the clock, is an outpouring of affection and celebration, a kind of festival of love, for thousands of servicemen and women returning from Saudi Arabia, and for whom Bangor is the first touchdown on American soil.

At all hours of day and night the commercial planes - chartered from United Airlines, Continental, Hawaiian Air, American Trans Air to bring the troops home - drop down after the long flight from Saudi Arabia. They refuel in Bangor before flying on to military bases in every part of the country, and the troops, still in their Desert Storm fatigues, pour off the planes for their first glimpse of America in months.

What awaits them here is astonishing, and moving, and uniquely American.

The airport terminal has been transformed with red, white, and blue banners, and flags, and balloons, and yellow ribbons. Proclaims one poster: ``God used you to bless America - thanks troops.'' And: ``Alpha Phi sorority loves US troops.'' And: ``From the Dedham cheerleaders, we all love ya.''

There are messages of jauntiness: ``MASH - Mainers Against Saddam Hussein.'' And of poignancy: ``Welcome home Vietnam vets and Persian Gulf troops,'' of especial meaning to the Vietnam veterans who dot the waiting crowds for each airliner.

Crowds there certainly are. No matter that weeks have gone by since the cease-fire in the Gulf war. No matter that some of the planes come in at two or three in the morning. So many people from Bangor and other parts of Maine want to welcome the troops that the local newspaper has to publish the plane arrival times. Radio stations broadcast them. So many people call the airport that special lines, with special numbers, have been installed with arrival information. Sometimes the airport is so clogged wit h welcomers that parked cars stretch for a mile down the approach road.

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