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Say 'thanks' to a veteran

At a time when the soldiers of Ft. Hood just finished burying their dead -- allegedly gunned down by one of their own officers -- and the president is considering sending up to 40,000 more troops to fight the war in Afghanistan, Veterans' Day takes on a special meaning.

Since the draft was discontinued after the Vietnam War and the nation switched to an all-volunteer military, military service has been more and more removed from most Americans' lives.

The men and women who join the armed forces these days, and often serve repeated tours of duty in war zones, largely do so out of good old-fashioned patriotism -- an honest desire to serve the country they love.

They, and those who served in the armed forces before them, deserve something we can all give them today -- our sincere thanks.

We owe them thanks for our freedom: Freedom to elect our own leaders in open and fair elections.

Freedom to be informed through an independent and robust press.

Freedom to choose which faith to follow, or whether we are believers at all.

Freedom to speak out and criticize our government and elected officials without fear of retribution.

Freedom to travel from city to city and state to state without fear of being watched or monitored.

Freedom to own guns, for hunting or home protection.

Freedom to gather in public places and voice our grievances.

Military service -- or the lack thereof -- is one of the bigger differences between the Greatest Generation, whose members lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and their Baby Boomer offspring.

While the Greatest Generation averaged just over 2 years of wartime service and 4 years of peacetime service per 100 person-years lived, the Baby Boomers served just over half of that, 1.1 and 2.9 years, respectively.

The first Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, marked the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I.

It became a U.S. national holiday in 1938 and in 1954 was renamed Veterans' Day, to honor all veterans. With the end of the draft and the passing of the World War II generation, military service is not the common denominator in American life it once was.

There are now about 23 million veterans in this country, down 5 million from a peak reached 30 years ago.

Barring some miraculous change of heart by Islamic extremists, U.S. troops are going to be kept busy for a few more years.

Today is Veterans' Day, a time to show our appreciation to those who served in the armed forces. Don't forget to say "thanks."