A day for reflection and gratitude

As we take time this Veterans Day morning to honor the men and women who served this country and sacrificed so much, our thoughts are with a generation of veterans who are slowly but surely leaving us — the "Greatest Generation" who defended freedom in the United States, and the world, in World War II.

Those men and women are in their 90s now. Many have already left us. All of them deserve our gratitude, love and respect, today and every day.

Their service came in many forms. Some were soldiers, sailors or pilots; others who could not serve for one reason or another filled factories and shipyards. All sacrificed for the common cause in one of the most uncertain eras of our nation's existence.

For decades, many veterans of that war kept their battle stories to themselves. That choice seems strange to us now, given what we know about post-traumatic stress disorder. But it was made in the social and cultural environment of the times. We can imagine that with so many thousands of Americans serving in that war — and so many thousands not returning home — that its survivors may have been hesitant to tell their own tales, lest they be perceived as putting themselves ahead of country and fallen comrades.

How many of us have a relative, close or distant, who never talked about their combat experiences? Not only in World War II, but any armed conflict?

And now that we understand PTSD, we know that avoiding those stories has also meant avoiding the emotional pain and scars that come with the memories.

But over time, their stories of heroism and valor in the worst of all possible circumstances were told. We are thankful, and all the wiser for it.

We are wiser because we know that what those men and women saw and experienced, from Lexington and Concord to Afghanistan and Iraq, wasn't the sanitized version of war that society had tolerated for so long, or that Hollywood had promoted. It was hell.

To know the real human cost of war is to gain a deeper sense of appreciation for the sacrifices that our soldiers have made.

It is also to know why we must pursue and promote peace at every opportunity before we commit our sons and daughters to the battlefield.

Many soldiers who returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan has shown us how steep that cost truly is. We have watched as they have struggled with substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment, depression and suicide. Some have overcome these difficulties; others have not been so fortunate.

As we mark Veterans Day, we hope that any future decision to sacrifice American lives keeps that high cost in mind, if it must be made at all.

To all of our veterans, wherever you served: Thank you.


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