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Harris Blackwood: Millions of reasons US is free, brave
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I woke up this morning in a place that is still the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I am writing a column right now that will be edited for clarity and proper style, but no one at a censoring bureau will tell me what to say.

Despite what some may tell you, we live in the greatest country on earth. If you don’t believe me, spend a few weeks in a third-world country controlled by a dictator. You’ll come around.

In three days, we will observe Veterans Day. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have gotten Veterans Day and Memorial Day confused.

Memorial Day is the day we honor those who went off to war and never came back. We have lost more than 1 million people in wars. Many of those were casualties of bullets, bombs and other forms of weaponry. We lost many veterans to sickness, as they encountered disease.

Veterans Day is to honor the living who have served the country in wartime and peacetime. Presently, 23 million men and women are veterans. Nearly 17 million of those served during wartime.

If you look around this week, you’re likely to find a veteran. They are doctors, schoolteachers, mechanics and an assortment of other occupations. They stand when recognition is offered, but don’t demand it.

We lost our last World War I serviceman, Frank Buckles, in 2011. He was 110.

What’s really amazing is 70 years past the end of World War II, we still have 1.7 million veterans living today. If someone entered the service and was 17 in 1945, he or she is now 87. Many are older.

I came along during the Vietnam era. About 8.7 million military men and women served during the war, including 3.4 million who were deployed to Southeast Asia. About 7.3 million Vietnam vets are living today.

When we moved to Social Circle, a missing young soldier by the name of James Terry Savage was on the prayer list at church. Sadly, his name is among the thousands on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The American and Christian flags in our little church were given in his memory. I hope someone might notice them this week.

Others are like Capt. Hilliard Almond Wilbanks, who flew a reconnaissance mission about 100 miles north of Saigon. He was not in a sleek jet, but a Cessna O-1E Bird Dog. He was shot, and his plane was badly damaged. But the captain fired back with his M-16. He alerted a South Vietnamese Ranger Battalion it was about to be ambushed.

His plane later crashed and he died en route to a hospital.

I hope they tell his story this week at the middle school in Habersham County that bears his name. Wilbanks, a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor, deserves our gratitude on Memorial and Veterans Days.

A friend of mine is a veteran of the Gulf War who flew 35 combat missions. I don’t know of a prouder Marine. I will personally thank him again this week.

I can thank my friend with ease. I can’t do that for Terry Savage or Hilliard Wilbanks. While we have them with us, we should look around and thank those who have given of themselves for our nation.

They are the reason it is still the land of the free and home of the brave.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on