I sat at the airport gate, waiting for a flight from Bangor to Florida a few years ago. The gate was full of people excited about the trip that was in front of them. I was one of them.

It was a snowy, frigid day in February. I hadn’t been to Florida since 1993, and it was due time.

I watched as a plane slowly approached the next gate. I am still amazed how something so big can jump off the ground like these planes do.

A few minutes later, I noticed that some people from my gate had gone over to a glass wall that separated our gate from the next gate. I looked through the wall of people and noticed that men and women in uniform were exiting the plane.

All of a sudden, I felt proud as punch.

I walked closer to the wall, and I could see that they were all dressed in fatigues with military boots and back packs. I held my hand out and touched it to the glass. A few of the men and women reached out from the other side and placed their hands on mine as they walked by. I could feel the energy pass from them to me. It was incredible.

I found myself all choked up inside and started to cry. I felt completely American at that moment, a feeling that I don’t ever want to forget.

The feeling of pride and passion that was rushing through me was as incredible a feeling as I have ever known. I felt so alive and so aware and so thankful and so grateful and so many other things.

I mouthed the words “thank you” to a few of them who looked at me as they walked by. They mouthed the same words back to me.

The line of men and women went on for several minutes. A welcoming committee waited for them at their gate. These people who greet the troops at the airport are there at every arrival and departure of our bravest. They do this out of the generosity and love from their hearts and ask nothing in return. They are all angels at the gate.

The men and women were Tennessee National Guard just arriving home from an 18-month tour in Iraq. I couldn’t help noticing the looks of joy and contentment on their faces as they walked by. They were finally home, and I was thankful and happy because of it.

My heart cries out with love and gratitude, with passion and praise for the fallen and their families, with tears of thanks and hope and faith, and I can’t even begin to show my appreciation to these bravest of the brave.

I had never experienced such a swell of passion and feelings inside of me as I did on that day because of the sacrifices of the millions of the bravest that enable me with so many things. I have taken so much for granted over the years.

My life is possible because of the sacrifices of the men and women on the other side of the glass wall. All that we are as Americans is made possible with the help of the countless who have given all they have to give to make sure that we are able to live our lives as we see fit.

Many of my family have served in the military and are still serving. I received a picture of one of them, my nephew, Michael, a couple years ago. He was standing in front of a monsterously huge vehicle in Iraq. He is a Marine, and I am so proud of him. That image is lodged in my mind forever.

I think about Michael and all the other military men and women, past and present. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

I thank God that I live in this country. I can’t imagine living any other way. I am lucky to be an American. Very lucky, indeed. I don’t take any of this for granted any more. I can’t afford to. None of us really can.

Happy Independence Day, everyone. God bless our men and women in uniform. We live the gift because of their sacrifices.

Deon P. Lyons, 50, of Clinton, is a husband and grandfather who recently lost his vision. He is in a vocational rehabilitation program with the help of the Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Augusta and hopes to re-enter the work force.

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