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Our Views: A family in uniform
Through triumph and tragedy, US armed forces stand together to defend a grateful nation
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Our Heroes: Join us in a multimedia celebration of our local veterans

It’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t have a military veteran in their lives.

It may be a parent, a grandparent, an uncle or aunt, a sibling or a cousin. It could be a friend, a classmate, a co-worker, a fellow church member. The members of our armed forces have touched all of our lives, directly and indirectly, since the United States first became a nation.

One doesn’t have to love or glorify war to celebrate the sacrifice and accomplishments of the brave men and women whose efforts helped forge the nation and the freedoms we enjoy.

Ask any soldier, guard member, airman, sailor or Marine. They don’t love war; no one in their right mind does. But they are willing to fight to protect what is dear to us all and keep our nation secure from threats without and within.

The men and women in our military, past and present, are our family and we are theirs, whether we break bread with them at Thanksgiving or not. We owe them so much that we can never repay. They hold a special place in our hearts and prayers every day because of what they have done and continue to do to guarantee our way of life.

That is why we grieve with them during tragedies. The shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, on Thursday claimed 13 lives, 12 soldiers and one civilian. The tight-knit military community has come together to mourn their loss, joined by all Americans who share in the sorrow.

We joined as a community in June to mourn the loss of one of our neighbors, Maj. Kevin Jenrette of Lula, a National Guardsman killed with two fellow Georgians in an attack in Afghanistan. Jenrette left behind a wife, three children, his parents and an entire town both saddened by his loss and proud of his service. It is a scene that has been repeated in numerous towns and cities across the nation for their own brave heroes who fell for the sake of their country.

That’s why we continue to offer memorials to those who have fallen and do our best to keep their memories alive. Jenrette and other soldiers are memorialized in Lula’s Veterans Park, each of their names inscribed on a brick. The American Freedom Garden at the Northeast Georgia History Center includes 24 pillars honoring our community’s military veterans over the years.

From "Old Joe," the statue of a Confederate soldier on Gainesville’s town square, and out to every town and village in our country, Americans seek to say thanks to those who put their own lives on hold, and on the line, to preserve the hometowns that raised them. They are meant as small but lasting tributes to ensure that future generations don’t forget what they did for us all.

Our long-range hope, however unlikely, is that wars become obsolete and that our military will never again have to engage in deadly battles to preserve our republic. And if that dream does comes true, we still need to remember the valor that constitutes the backbone of our free society. We must love freedom enough to fight those who threaten it, and the brave, skilled men and women who assume that task on our behalf are "the tip of the spear" whom we all stand behind.

Last week, a group of National Guard members from the 108th Cavalry unit marched from Toccoa to Atlanta to commemorate a similar march in 1942 by Georgia members of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, who then headed to Columbus for paratrooper training. They have sore feet and stiff legs from their trek, but they felt it was an appropriate way to honor those who made that march as part of their mission a generation before.

If those soldiers can honor their own with such a task, the least we all can do is pause to pay our respects on Veterans Day this Wednesday. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, originally set aside as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I, we honor our veterans’ sacrifice in unison as a people.

The time is right to do so. Thousands of our World War II vets are passing each year, and only a handful of octogenarians remain who served in the greatest of all wars. Our Korean and Vietnam vets who served in less popular, more controversial campaigns are growing grayer as well. And those who served, and still do, in recent years in the Middle East have continued that tradition of selfless sacrifice to battle the instigators of terrorism and anti-American extremism.

That thread began with the citizen soldiers who fought for our nation’s independence more than 200 years ago, through two centuries of battles to preserve and unite our country, and up to this very day. As you read this, men and women of our armed forces are patrolling the dusty streets of foreign towns and remote deserts, seeking out our enemies and working to stabilize war-torn countries. They carry with them in Baghdad and Kabul the smoke from the cannons of Lexington and Concord, Antietam and Gettsysburg, San Juan Hill and Belleau Wood, Normandy and Iwo Jima, Inchon and Saigon.

The enemies may be different, the venues varied, the style of combat, weaponry and tactics all unique. But the American troops who serve today represent the same brave tradition of their parents, grandparents and forefathers of generations past who all swallowed their fears, loaded their weapons and trudged off to do their duty.

One family. One nation. One common goal. They are us and we are them, and we must never forget what they have done and still do for us all.

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