Across Oregon, more than 310,000 people can say proudly, “I’m a vet.” That includes 25,600 women and about 2,000 military veterans in Malheur County. Sunday is Veterans Day, and especially now, it ought to be more than an excuse for a Monday holiday from work or school.

Every veteran who stepped into boots and pulled on a uniform did a service to this country. Across the centuries, Americans have stepped up to defend with their courage and their blood the right to live free in the U.S., and the right of people in other lands to live free of totalitarian governments. They have kept threats from our shores, making the U.S. one of the most secure places on the planet.

They have answered the call time after time. At times, they were drafted – conscripted to serve their county. The draft has been history since 1973, an all-volunteer military service now deemed adequate to the nation’s needs. That’s possible because young men and women, from the small towns to the big cities of Oregon and across the nation, swear their allegiance to the country and step forward to serve.

We were reminded just last weekend that in these times of “peace,” those in the military still face grave risks. In Afghanistan, a father serving in the Army National Guard was killed. He leaves behind a wife, seven children, and a mourning city in Utah where he was mayor. He is Brent Taylor. He is a hero.

Veterans Day, which honors all those heroes who serve, traces its origins to 1918. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a truce took hold in Europe as American and German forces set the safety on their weapons and warred no more. A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 to be Armistice Day. He wanted to honor those who died, to have the American people reflect on the values of peace and justice.

In 1938, the event became a legal federal holiday and in 1954 “Veterans” replaced “Armistice” so the country could honor all veterans.

Today, the ranks of World War II veterans are thinning. Those who served in Vietnam represent the biggest portion of today’s census of veterans. After that, it is the ranks of those who served Gulf duty who count heavy in the roll call of veterans. And while we are not formally at war anywhere, men and women still die, still come home maimed, still come home damaged from service to their country and in duty to security around the world. The globe remains a dangerous place for anyone in uniform.

As with any team, no military force succeeds only by virtue of the decorated heroes, the ones who charge into battle, who face down gunfire and bombs. No infantryman succeeds without the determined support of those who provide communications, transportation, and even the basics of chow. Every veteran we have met remains proud of his or her service, no matter the job, no matter the service.

In a resolution in 1926, Congress called on Americans to salute the veterans and observe the holiday. By that resolution, Congress urged “the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.”

This Veterans Day, that call seems especially relevant after what happened to this country during the just-finished election. Veterans understand what is at stake, and what being an American means. Surely, they know that Americans reflect honor, courage and integrity. They do not, should not ever, hate one another. Use this Veterans Day to reflect on what those in the military have given you, and to consider what you can do to safeguard those ideals – for every American.

– LZ