"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." -- John Stuart Mill

Thursday on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, we honor our veterans. Who is that veteran? He or she might be our neighbor, our co-worker, our friend, our family member, those who serve at our American Legion and VFW services. The American veteran is a man or woman giving silent testimony of love for our country, our people, our way of life and our freedom.

There are many ways to say "thank you," but none of them are adequate to express our gratitude to those who have given up so much to safeguard our freedoms. There is no way to give back time and memory to those who were not home for their child's birthday, their spouse's anniversary, that ballgame when their son hit a homerun or struck out, or their favorite aunt's funeral.

As I tried to write what would be an expression of my feelings for those protectors of our homeland and world, I could only come up with words that were grossly inadequate and hollow. I found the writing below with its cry of thanks aptly expressing our feelings for our veterans and our troops.

What is a Veteran?

Some veterans bear the visible signs of their service ... a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg, or perhaps another sort of inner steel-- the soul's alloy, forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can't tell a vet just by looking.

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

She -- or he -- is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep every night sobbing for two long years in Danang. He is the POW who went away one person and came back another -- or didn't come back at all. He is the Quantico 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 others' backs.

He is the parade-riding Legionaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand. He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by. He is the three anonymous heroes in the Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor died unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket -- palsied now and aggravatingly slow -- who helped liberate the Nazi death camps and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when his nightmares come. He is an ordinary, and yet an extraordinary, human being. A person who suffered some of 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. He is a soldier and a saviour and a sword against the darkness, and he is 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, to 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 could have been awarded or were awarded. Two little words that mean a lot, "thank you."

-- Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC.

Honor, respect and remember the men and women who are America's true heroes.

Ruth Moriarity is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.