On Veterans Day, we honor a group that is so much a part of our lives that we hardly notice them. They are our neighbors, friends, and members of our family.

They answered the call, did their duty, and quietly returned to build families, careers and a nation. They, and all veterans, are what George Washington had in mind when he said these words. "When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen."

I’ve never heard how many veterans are alive today. There are many and in the world we live in, there will always be more. Regretfullly, mankind has never learned to live together. Sometimes all alternatives fail and once again we send our young people into the field.

How do you describe a veteran? How do you define a group that is, in many ways, as alike as grains of sand but in others as different as snowflakes in a storm? Each and every veteran has a story to tell.

In a world that decries many of what were once called traditional values, those who have served tend to see things differently. They honor the flag, and stand just a little straighter as it passes. Sometimes they salute. They stand for the pledge of allegiance. They aren’t offended when our flag is displayed in the classroom or when students begin their day saying the pledge. They remember most of the words to our national anthem.

People who have seen the flag-covered caskets of their friends are not big supporters of those who seek to make a point by burning that flag. Most veterans I know have little tolerance for those who apologize for what this country has done and what it stands for. Most veterans recognize that what we have, and what we have given to so much of the world, was bought and paid for with the coin of human lives.

Those who have been in the military have lived in a situation where one has greater responsibility at a younger age than in any other endeavor. No matter the place or nature of their service, no one returns unchanged.

Most veterans do not see themselves as heroes; they see themselves as temporary employees doing a sometimes difficult job in a sometimes dangerous situation. Most don’t think much about being a veteran in the years immediately after they return; this seems to come later.

As they get older, they begin to reflect back on the experience and to appreciate whatever good parts there were. More than a few try to reconnect with the past. They try to locate and to gather with those who were a part of that past.

They remember things that no longer are and to laugh at things that only those who were there can understand. They value an experience that they wouldn’t want to repeat.

There is a cemetery on a quiet hilltop in Mission Hills, Calif. The final resting place of a very special veteran.

It has no GI marker and of a man who never served in the military. Though the name reads Leslie Towne Hope, he was better known as Bob. His worldwide USO battlefield tours have made him one of our most beloved citizens, and a man revered by generations of GIs from the jungles of Guadalcanal to deserts of Iraq.

In 1997, Bob was designated an honorary veteran, the first and only one in our history. This recognition was given by Congress to honor his 50 years of service to our military. During this time, he led 60 overseas tours and performed over 1,000 times.

I was fortunate to be at one of the ceremonies celebrating this event. Though Bob was unable to attend, he sent this message: "I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime --- but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever been given."

Bob Hope was wrong. He was not given this award. He, like all veterans, earned it. He earned it by stepping forward in his country’s time of need.

To you, the veterans, I give this message: Be proud of what you have done and where you have done it. You are veterans; wear the title proudly. It is not given, it is not awarded; it is earned.

Thank you for your service.

— This is a condensed version of a presentation Harold Fulton has made several times. Fulton retired from both the Wayne County Schools Career Center and Air Force.