By DAVID ARGALL

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

This year, as we commemorate the 56th anniversary of Veterans Day, it is important for all Americans to honor the service and sacrifice of our service members past and present and to remember that this day of commemoration and rededication was conceived through the agony of war and birthed by the joy of peace.

Veterans Day, as we now know it, essentially arose from the ghastly trenches of World War I and global joy that came with the end of combat. In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world commemorated the first Armistice Day.

In 1953, the townspeople of Emporia, Kansas, renamed Armistice Day as "Veterans Day" in gratitude to all of the veterans in their town. Soon after, Congress passed a bill renaming the national holiday as "Veterans Day." It was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954.

So on this solemn occasion, we as a nation and as a Commonwealth thank all of the men and women who have served in our military.

Pennsylvanians have a proud history of service to our nation and we now boast a population of more than 1.2 million veterans, or nearly 10 percent of our state's population. One-out-of-seven members of the armed forces in World War II were Pennsylvanians and more Medals of Honor were awarded to Pennsylvanians in that war than to citizens of any other state.

This readiness to serve America has come at a great cost, however. Twenty four thousand Pennsylvanians died in World War II; 2,400 young men from the Commonwealth were killed or missing in action in Korea. Of the more than 58,000 names engraved on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., there are 1,449 names of men and women from Pennsylvania. 29 Pennsylvanians perished in the Persian Gulf War. And, Pennsylvanians are continuing to make the supreme sacrifice as part of the on-going military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just like the Doughboys and GIs of the past, the members of our armed forces today are defending freedom and justice in foreign lands. We should be proud of each and every one of them.

Throughout our nation's history, military service has been considered a great honor. And now, as we observe Veterans Day, we should remember that this holiday is not about battles fought, planes downed, or bombs dropped.

It is about ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, making extraordinary sacrifices, and the incredible debt that we owe them. It is about lonely young people far away from home; it is about hard work; and it is about unwavering principles.

And for that, we as a people offer our thanks.