By Dwight Schuh, Editor

As I'm writing this, troops from the Armed Forces of the United States are fighting in Iraq. While many reasons are given for the war, one word constantly surfaces to describe the broad objective of that campaign. Freedom. We are fighting for freedom.

When the war in Iraq broke out, many people debated whether we should postpone or cancel certain sporting events and activities in this country. In response to that, one soldier was quoted as saying, "We're not fighting to stop these things. We're fighting to preserve them."

In other words, carry on. Putting our lives on hold at home will do no good for the war cause over there. In fact, it would contradict the purpose of the war. After all, in the broadest sense, our troops are fighting for one reason - so that we all can enjoy freedom. That freedom is what gives them something to fight for. And it's what gives them something to return to.

I have some personal knowledge of that concept. In 1967, I spent a year in Vietnam. Now, I wasn't there for any heroic reasons. I was there because the U.S. government sent me a draft notice and told me that's where I was going. So I went and did my best to fulfill my patriotic duty.

During my year in Vietnam, my friend Don Hummel wrote to me every week, sometimes every day. Don and I had grown up together, beginning in the first grade, and we had hunted English sparrows with our BB guns together, we had shot our bows together, had fished together. But, above all, we had hunted ducks together. That was our real bond.

Don had preceded me to Vietnam. As a Marine, he was on the front lines and, seriously injured, he returned to the U.S. about the time I was heading overseas. So Don knew what war was like. He knew a soldier's mentality. That's why he wrote to me.

But he didn't write me sympathy cards. When he recovered from his injuries and returned to civilian life, he resumed his first love - duck hunting. And that's what he wrote to me about. Duck hunting. He wrote me long, detailed letters about the smells of the marsh, about the feel of the wind, about watching flights of ducks coming in from the north, about the smells of gun powder and Hoppe's #9, about running his fingers through the feathers of a fat pintail. And he sent me photos chronicling all of his duck hunts and other outdoors adventures.

I clung to those letters and pictures. They were my sustenance. And it wasn't just because they stirred memories of past hunts in my mind. It was because, deep inside, down in my guts, I knew, That's why I'm over here. So that you and other Americans can do that. That's why I'm over here. So that once again, someday, I can return home and do that myself.

And so it is that our soldiers are fighting now - so that we all can carry on our lives and activities, including hunting. So that we can enjoy freedom. If you read my "The Wild Side" column in this issue, you get a slight taste of the freedom we enjoy in North America. While that column is written slightly tongue in cheek, it reveals a lot of truth, because it hints at the vast opportunities we North Americans have at our fingertips. It reveals freedom.

The next time you're sitting peacefully in a treestand or shivering in the chill wind on mountaintop, with a bow in your hand, don't dare take that moment for granted. Instead, thank God you live in the United States of America or in Canada, where you have the freedom and resources to do what you're doing at that moment. You're hunting - because you're free to hunt. The only appropriate response is thanksgiving.

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