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With Veteran's Day coming next Monday I have been thinking about how the way our country treats veterans, and how that has changed during my lifetime.  Nobody questions that getting into World War II was the right thing to do.  Nazis are bad, and the Japanese attacked our homeland.  But people have questioned our involvement in every war since World War II, especially the Vietnam War.  That war unfairly made pariahs of returning soldiers.  The dial has turned 180 degrees since that time, to the point where it has become politically correct to thank veterans and serving military men and women for their service.

Still, if you have to go too far one way or the other, the current attitude is the way to go.  Young people who join the military during a war have an expectation that they will find themselves in harm's way, but a lot of folks sign up in peacetime for the benefits, such as getting an education or health benefits.  Of course it's not that they're just in it for the bling, but they can very well be surprised to find themselves in front of bullets or blown up by  improvised explosive device (IED) when the politicians send them to fight abroad.

Last weekend I tagged along with an Honor Flight, a program that flies veterans -- especially very old veterans -- to Washington DC to see the war monuments and participate in ceremonies to honor the dead.  The organizers see to it that these veterans will receive plenty of thanks for their contributions in the various wars.  And as they visit each memorial plenty of people who are not aware of honor flights took it upon themselves to shake the veterans' hands and thank them for their service.

I could see in their faces that they appreciated the recognition.  To be sure, many veterans feel uncomfortable talking about their war experiences.  I had a pal who was an Air Force veteran who liked to wear his World War II cap when he went to diners.  A lot of folks took notice, and sometimes even bought his meal.

The Honor Flight is a concentrated version of that.  The 80 veterans on the flight I shadowed -- World War II, Korea, and Vietnam vets -- were treated like celebrities.  And by the way, all their meals for the day were paid for.  One of my favorite moments was the parade of vets coming from their charter plane into the terminal, where a cadre of greeters waited to shake their hands and thank them for what they did for our country.  Many of them were beaming, loving the attention and being treated like celebrities.  Some seemed bemused by the whole thing.  But they all seemed very appreciative of the effort folks made to come out to honor them.

Some folks join up, while others serve the community in important but much less personally dangerous ways.  Both are laudable, but putting your life on the line for your country is a special kind of bravery.  A day of honor isn't a tangible thing like better health care for veterans, or help transitioning from the armed services into civilian life so that fewer people who served end up homeless or destitute.

But it is meaningful.  Those of us who haven't served should be grateful to those who have.  No country is perfect, but ours affords us a lot of freedoms and even amenities that we are privileged to take for granted, while people in other countries.. even other first world countries... can't.  It is our military men and women who continue to make that possible.

So it's nice that we have an official Veteran's Day day for that, but, really this is something we should be grateful for every day.

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