The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a soldier as “one engaged in military service,” and a veteran as “an old soldier of long service.”

These descriptions leave a lot unsaid about their roles in the defense of our country. Expectations of them are high: Loyalty, duty, respect, courage, integrity, selflessness and honor. Spend a few minutes with a veteran, and you will find they did not leave these powerful character traits on the battlefield.

These men and women carry many memories they would like to forget. They have lost friends and family members and have seen horrific deaths. They feel this loss as strongly as they feel patriotism.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

When those soldiers returned home from that conflict, not much existed to help them transition from what they had experienced.

The United States Congress chartered the American Legion as a Veteran’s organization in 1919. Today, the American Legion has a membership of 2.4 million and there are posts in all 50 states, as well as the Philippines, Mexico, France, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. They were, perhaps, the first to see a void in the necessary care for those who returned from war, and they made it personal and powerful and close to home.

The Veterans Administration consolidated programs in 1930. They provide everything from financial and educational support, to health care, through a myriad of programs designed to help soldiers reenter a normal life after participating in conflicts. While conflicts and weapons have changed, the soldiers still come home with physical and psychological damage, of types those of us left at home will never experience.

Old Soldiers live among us; we see them at the grocery store or the local assisted living facility. It is likely they are those who tip their hats and hold doors for people; who always put others first, and who ask for nothing.

Perhaps the only way you will know of their service is the type of license plate they have on their vehicle, or a hat that defines their branch of the service. They don’t talk much, and certainly not about how or where they served.

Those of us who lived during the Vietnam era remember the protests, and the controversy about how our soldiers were treated when they came home. We were passionate on both sides of the issue, and took opportunities to speak our minds without thinking that we had that right because of the Old Soldiers that fought for us in every war before.

William Tecumseh Sherman is quoted as saying, “War is Hell” as he spoke to a graduating class at Michigan Military Academy. As a veteran of two wars, he knew of what he spoke, and so does every single Veteran in our midst.

Many Veterans are alone. They live alone or in homes where they feel alone. They may have families, but they are often very busy with the quality of life they were provided by that soldier’s service. Find a Veteran near you, and thank him or her. They will feel less alone. Visit occasionally. They will appreciate you and your effort.

The next time you hear “America The Beautiful” or “God Bless America,” look around. You may see a Veteran. You will know him or her by the tear on a cheek; a tear for pride in country and service. It is palpable.

Many of us can name people we went to school with who left for war and never came back. And while Vietnam will probably never fade from our psyches, the boys that have served in all the other wars since, have experienced similar horrors that we now want to turn away from when we watch the evening news.

To Michael, Stephen, Howard and Tommy and so many others: we wish you had made it home to become Old Soldiers. You exemplified loyalty, duty, respect, courage, integrity, selflessness and honor and you never even made it to 21.

Thank you.