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Editorial: Generations of heroes keep our country free

Nov. 05, 2012 @ 11:10 PM

As America heads to the polls today, a majority of citizens understandably will be thinking about who they will vote for and wondering who will be the next batch of leaders at local, state and federal levels.

That's as it should be. But it's also an appropriate time to think about the men and women who over the decades have served in the nation's military branches. One reason is that Veterans Day is coming upon us within the next few days. Another is that those who have or are currently serving in the military have helped protect Americans' precious freedoms, including the hallowed right of being able to cast ballots to choose their leaders and representatives in government.

This service to country, of course, comes at great sacrifice, from the more than a million lives lost in war during this country's existence to the more than a million people who have suffered injury during their military service. And that doesn't reflect the emotional trauma that often can last a lifetime, nor the sacrifices made by the families of those who have served.

Just how harrowing military service can be -- and the courage that those in the military must summon -- is exemplified by the stories of the region's two living Medal of Honor winners. In accounts published in The Herald-Dispatch on Sunday and Monday, Woody Williams of West Virginia and Ernie West of Kentucky recalled the dangers they faced in helping members of their units survive and overcome great obstacles during World War II and the Korean War, respectively. Through their bravery and determination, they managed to survive.

The sacrifices continue today, with the war in Afghanistan yet to run its course.

The pride that Tri-State residents have regarding their family members who served was evident in the 28-page Salute to Veterans special section that appeared in Sunday's The Herald-Dispatch. Photos and information about more than 300 veterans from the Tri-State were submitted and included.

Others are working this week to assure that our veterans are not forgotten, both in formal observances planned for this weekend and through various other initiatives that are under way. For example, West Virginia's Take a Veteran to School Day is in its fifth year, and several schools and organizations are taking part. Among the participants is the Huntington Boys and Girls Club. At these events, veterans will be honored, but they also will have the opportunity to tell their stories so that they can be recorded as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project. Fairland West Elementary in Ohio is among the schools having special programs and receptions this week to honor local veterans and active duty servicemen and servicewomen.

It's encouraging that efforts such as those help expose our students to the important roles that veterans have played in this country's history and assure that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.

For adults, however, the lessons should be ingrained by now. So after you cast your ballot today, be sure to remember to thank a veteran this week. Their steadfast vigil to protect the nation continues to give us the freedoms inherent in our nation's founding nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago.

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