No matter how long an American man or woman wore a military uniform, that person will forever remain a soldier, an airman, a sailor, a Marine.

What those patriots were willing to give up in service to their country should not be forgotten. Particularly on this Veterans Day, the selfless sacrifice of those who joined the military must be cherished and celebrated.

As if often quoted and accurately noted, freedom isn’t free. That price can be measured.

In the country’s wars, nearly 1.2 million Americans – more than the population of eight states – have paid the ultimate price of their lives since 1775, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Another 1.4 million others suffered nonfatal wounds during conflicts.

These men and women gave life and limb to ensure the freedoms we sometimes take for granted, and we owe them a debt that can never be repaid. Victory against foreign invaders, slavery, Nazism and other grave threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were by no means guaranteed.

Another truism related to service – “All gave some; some gave all” – pertains to the tens of millions of Americans who joined the military in times of both war and peace.

Life for anyone serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard – or their families – is not always easy. Long deployments and permanent changes of stations every few years, not to mention the very real mental and physical threats faced by those in combat zones, can put serious strain on active-duty military and those close to them.

Despite this, parents, spouses, children and other loved ones plow forward resolutely, knowing the importance of the job is vital to the country as a whole.

In a world that is often unsettled, America needs to be vigilant against threats both foreign and domestic. The front line of defense against many of these potential hazards is the men and women who serve in the military to protect our national security.

The patriots stormed the beaches at Normandy, raised a flag atop Mount Suribachi, battled communism on the mountainsides of Korea and the jungles of Vietnam and toppled murderous dictators in the Middle East, among innumerable other missions to defend the U.S. and democracy worldwide.

For that, we thank them. Today, countless other Americans will do the same.

Whether it’s a free meal, haircut or gift, myriad businesses from coast to coast will pay respect to those who have served or currently served in the armed forces. Though these tokens of gratitude are small the message they send – and one we should all echo in one form or another – is one that can’t be heard enough: “Thank you for your service.”

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