About 22 million Americans, fewer than one in 14 of us, share a bond like no other. They are veterans of military service - and they and their comrades in arms who have passed on have been the vigilant guardians of our very way of life for more than two centuries.
Today, Veterans Day, we pause to honor these men and women. At the same time we reflect upon the sacrifices they - and their families - have made, it is appropriate to consider how important they have been and are to us.
Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, in the wake of World War I. It was the "war to end wars," some thought at the time.
So horrible was the devastation of that conflict - with tens of millions, primarily in Europe, slaughtered - that even those who considered themselves realists believed humankind might have learned to solve its differences without resorting to violence.
Less than a generation later, the optimists were proven wrong. Militarism in Germany, Japan and Italy led the world once again into a global war.
It ended when the United States used two weapons - atomic bombs - so terrible some thought again that humankind would refrain from war.
We know now that war, often not declared but still just as terrible, will continue to be part of our history. Since World War II, "the bomb" has been less a factor in safeguarding us than have men and women willing to serve as our shield against both aggression by nations and terrorism by individuals and organizations.
Without the men and women who have served in our Army, Navy, Air
Force, Marines and Coast Guard, we would not be free. Our nation would not be such a beacon of hope that millions come here, legally and illegally, to share in our freedom and prosperity.
Today, then, we owe our veterans much. We owe them a debt we can never repay. All we can do is tell them how sincerely grateful we are.
Take a few minutes today, then, and reflect upon what they have done for us. If you know veterans, tell them how grateful you are. And say a prayer for both those on active duty and those who already have served.
May God bless them and keep them, in peace and in war.