THE late Elmer Davis was a highly regarded writer who is likely unknown to most Americans. His words, however, always ring true each Veterans Day.
"This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave," Davis once penned.
That thought is often emphasized at this time of the year when veterans -- both present and past -- of all branches of the armed services are singled out for their contributions.
This is a tradition taken seriously in West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri, where veterans are acknowledged with the greatest level of respect.
The annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, for example, is often emotional for both those being honored and those doing the honoring. Tear-stained cheeks are commonplace inside the Lippencott Hall auditorium.
In addition, there are numerous heartfelt and fitting tributes to veterans across our region, including Camp Point Central Junior High School's "Take A Vet to School" program each year. The up-close-and-personal interaction between veterans of all ages and the students is always memorable.
Moreover, several area restaurants provide free meals for veterans on Veterans Day. It's not only a chance for those businesses to thank the veterans for their service, but for all of the customers to do the same.
And each Veterans Day, the Lugnuts Car Club presents a sizable check to the Illinois Veterans Home to assist with residents' needs. The money is raised from fundraisers and done with love and admiration.
The Herald-Whig and WGEM launched an initiative in August to honor and support veterans and active-duty personnel.
The "We Salute You" campaign is an effort to develop an ongoing digital database containing contact information of veterans and active-duty personnel in a 36-county area of West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.
The primary objective is to identify those in the region with ties to the six branches of the military -- the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy or National Guard and reserves -- to be able to alert them about events, military tributes and other programs that may be designed for them.
Specifically, information can be shared with those who register at the We Salute You website, wesaluteyou.us, on topics such as education, career or employment opportunities, housing, and financial and health services. Matching veterans with existing employment opportunities will be an ongoing focus.
The website also will enable the construction of a permanent digital memorial to honor the service of past and present military personnel in our region, another way to say thank you. So far, 68 have registered, a number that will continue to grow.
The Census Bureau estimates there were 18.5 million military veterans in the U.S. in 2016, with about 9.2 million of those age 65 and older and another 1.6 million younger than 35.
Clearly, Veterans Day in this era has a much different feel than it did 50 years ago when the nation was heavily divided over our country's military role in Southeast Asia.
Bob Craig, the much-respected curator of the All Wars Museum on the Illinois Veterans Home campus and a Vietnam veteran, remembers returning home in the late 1960s. There were no parades or tributes, and veterans made every effort to remain anonymous and out of the public eye.
Fortunately, that has all changed. Whether at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., or a junior high in Camp Point, veterans are now regarded with the respect and honor they so richly deserve.