What is a Veteran?

         Some veterans bear visible signs of their service -- a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others carry the evidence inside them -- a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg. Or perhaps another sort of steel -- the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

        Except in parades, however, the men and women who kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can't always recognize a veteran by looking.

        A Veteran - whether active duty, retired, national guard or reserve - is someone who, at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the "United States of America" for an amount of "up to and including my life." 


So WHO are these Veterans?

        The cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.

        The barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scale by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.

        The nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

        The POW who went away one person and came back another, or maybe didn't come back at all.

        The Parris Island drill instructor who has never seen combat, but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.

        The parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.

        The career quartermaster who watched the ribbons and medals pass him by.

        One of the anonymous heroes in the Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at Arlington National Cemetery forever preserves the memory of all anonymous heroes whose valor died unrecognized on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

        The old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket, palsied and aggravatingly slow, who helped liberate a Nazi death camp, and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

        An ordinary, yet an extraordinary, human being -- a person who sacrificed his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

        A soldier, sailor, airman, guardsman ... and a savior and a sword against the darkness. Nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.



        So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say "Thank you." That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they were awarded, or could have been awarded.

        Two little words that mean a lot: "Thank you."

        Remember that November 11 is Veterans Day.

(Author unknown)

And be sure to check out "Just Say Thanks," a program offered by Xerox Corporation where the public can send free, personalized cards (designed by children) to U.S. troops serving overseas. And Xerox says they'll continue the program "for as long as it's needed." Excellent!