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Our Views: Make every day a veterans day
Returning heroes make US stronger, and their needs should be met
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

Americans marked Veterans Day on Friday, a celebration that continues through the three-day weekend with events around Gainesville and Northeast Georgia.

It's appropriate that the holiday has stretched beyond one day. When it comes to honoring the service of the men and women in our armed forces, one day is never enough.

It's been cited many times, but it's worth mentioning again that none of the freedoms we now enjoy would be possible without the sacrifice and courage of those who have worn the uniform.

After all, the United States was forged by battle, our independence gained by the efforts of the original patriots of the 18th century. That freedom earned then was defended against threats from outside and inside the nation in the 200 years since.

The Civil War opened, then healed the festering wound of slavery that kept the ideal of liberty from becoming whole. Americans vanquished the threats from tyrants abroad in World Wars I and II, and took on the spread of communism in Korea and Vietnam.

In recent years, we joined with allies to beat back the forces of Islamic extremism and regimes that backed terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now with the war in Iraq declared at an end and Afghanistan winding down in the near future, many more veterans soon will come home. We need to ensure they return to a grateful nation that embraces their service and makes every effort to help them in the difficult transition back to civilian life.

One of the more shameful chapters of our recent history was the reception soldiers received when they returned from Vietnam, the nation's most unpopular war. Because that war was so divisive, many of its foes expressed their opposition and frustration against those who served. That lack of appreciation left a bitterness that veterans of that war still carry with them.

We can't let that happen again. The Iraq war also was unpopular among many. Fortunately, most of the war's opponents this time have been able to separate their lack of support for the political causes of the campaign from their feelings about those who waged it.

Whatever the war, its political ramifications or its effect, those in uniform perform the duty they signed up for, and they do it remarkably well. They deserve our support and admiration, before, during and after the battles.

We must remember that many veterans return from overseas with scars that are slow to heal. Many have suffered lost limbs and sight and other serious wounds that will plague them for decades. Others carry the psychological baggage of war, post-traumatic stress that keeps them from enjoying a normal life. They paid a very high price for their bravery and our cause.

Yet even in times of budget austerity and deficit awareness, we cannot turn our backs on those who have served so nobly. Veterans health services must remain fully funded and staffed. New research and treatment of the physical and mental effects of war should be advanced to give these courageous souls as normal a life as possible. Most are still very young and deserve to live out their years comfortably and peacefully. We must summon the will and resources to make that a priority.

Those same support services should be available to the family members of those in the armed forces. The spouses and children of veterans sacrificed in their own ways during their loved ones' time at war, and the country should provide for their needs as well.

In addition, employers should give returning veterans every consideration when hiring new workers. The nation's unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, and jobs are hard to come by. But our military heroes bring to the workplace high-tech, well-honed skills, a strong work ethic and leadership abilities that should move them to the head of the line for many available jobs.

After all, this is our new Greatest Generation, the children and grandchildren of those who fought so bravely in Europe and Asia in the 20th century, then built America's prosperity in the years that followed. They are smart, hard-working and determined. They will work hard to put out fires and keep our streets safe, teach our children and in some cases, hold public office. At a time when the nation is hungry for new leaders to guide us through uncertain times, these veterans could be the catalyst to unite us and provide the clarity of purpose we have lost along the way.

In recent years, the U.S. has been split into its own warring factions, extremists on the left and right unable to find common ground. That political rift has set the country adrift and made it increasingly difficult for elected officials to put aside their differences and find workable solutions to society's challenges.

Perhaps that gap can be bridged by our trusted warriors who know better than anyone that our ideals are not to be compromised or taken for granted. Having faced the daily threat of violence during their deployment and seen firsthand the effects of oppression and tyranny, they will savor freedom more than anyone. Their voices should be heard and their efforts encouraged to help us get beyond the petty differences that hold us back.

Yes, our returning heroes need our support as they come home. But in the long run, we may need them even more.

This is why every day should be one when we celebrate the nation's veterans, the freedoms they fought to preserve and the bright future they will help us create.

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