WASHINGTON -- America is at war. According to the latest opinion polls, that is not what many Americans want to hear as we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday. Our political "leaders" don't want to acknowledge this war. Our media do their best to ignore it. Most of our society, businesses and industries are removed from it. What little manufacturing remains in this country turns out products other than those used by our soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines. Our allies largely abandoned this fight long ago, and our entertainment industry openly mocks and condemns it.
The fact remains, however, that America is at war. Even those who turn a blind eye to reality cannot ignore the fact that radical Islamists want to be at war with us. Thus, it is so.
It was on Oct. 3, 1863, in the midst of the bloodiest war America ever has fought, that Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation "to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." After I visited several wounded Marines in the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., this week, it struck me that too few of our countrymen will offer thanks for the remarkable young Americans in harm's way this Thanksgiving.
Here are some others for whom we should be grateful -- and who serve with little or no credit:
Doctors and nurses, corpsmen and medics: Thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines are alive today because of the courage, skill and advanced medical treatment employed by these specialists. From the battlefield to stateside hospitals, there never have been lifesavers better than these.
Chaplains: While the medical professionals heal the body, chaplains minister to the soul. War is hell on earth, and it can lead a person to the Lord as easily as it can test the strength of his or her faith. In covering our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, I've seen countless times when chaplains have helped battle-weary young Americans make sense of that which doesn't.
Military recruiters: Most of them rather would be with a unit in combat, and nearly all assigned to this often-thankless duty have served already in this war. But for the recruiters in our communities, most young Americans never would have the opportunity to make a decision to become part of a cause bigger than themselves. Despite all the negative "spin" from our press and politicians, they have succeeded in filling the ranks of our armed forces with the bravest and brightest of this generation.
Drill instructors and drill sergeants: America's all-volunteer military is the best-educated, -trained, -led and -equipped armed force in history, thanks to the qualities of these proven leaders. They hone individuals into a team and model the kind of skills necessary for a unit in combat to perform honorably -- even heroically -- in the chaos of the modern battlefield.
Officers, specialists, analysts, interrogators and special agents of our intelligence services and federal law enforcement agencies: They have the most thankless task of all -- spending countless hours poring over millions of e-mails, images and transcribed conversations of those who are dying to kill the rest of us. They go under cover for clandestine, high-risk "meets" with informants who may or may not provide clues to prevent disasters. The only official recognition most of them ever will receive won't be declassified until after they are retired or dead.
Volunteers: They take days off from work to meet our troops to welcome them home. They staff airport USO facilities and attend the funerals of our fallen -- though they never knew them -- just because it is the right thing to do. These are the Americans who organize "care package" drives, knit quilts for burn victims, and make flights available to bring family members to the bedsides of loved ones. These are the people who quietly, without fanfare, pick up the restaurant tab for a service member sitting at a nearby table. And these are the Americans who dare to approach a uniformed man or woman in an airport, extend a hand and say, "Thank you for your service."
Military families: These are the most special people of all. They gave their sons, daughters, husbands and wives to the service of our nation. Only those who have experienced airport or pier-side goodbye hugs from loved ones leaving in uniform truly know what they endure. They have made that lonely, tearful walk back to the car after waving what they hope and pray is not a last "goodbye" for a service member leaving on a deployment. They have persevered through missed anniversaries, birthdays and holidays -- always anxious about the knock on the door or a telephone call that will bring terrible news. Alone on this Thanksgiving, they bravely shoulder their families' burdens because the words "duty" and "service" mean something -- especially when America is at war.
Thank you. God bless all of you on this Thanksgiving.
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