Each year, during the second week of November, thousands of active-duty servicemembers and veterans are treated to a free meal in honor of Veterans Day, courtesy several well-known restaurant franchises.

The buffet-style meal treats us all to the best that the restaurant chains have to offer, and is a fitting tribute to America's best - the men and women who have served honorable and are able to partake in the festivities. But as noble as these restaurants' gestures are, there is so much more to Veterans Day than just a free meal.

Veterans Day is about paying tribute and remembrance. It's about paying tribute to the Soldiers and Marines who battled tirelessly in places like Fallujah, the battle of Ong Thanh in Vietnam or Operation Market Garden in World War II.

It's about remembering heroes like Sgt. Alvin C. York, Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith or Master Sgt. Roy P. Benevidez.

There are many others who are considered heroes. Many of whom I didn't know and other that I did. To give one's life so that others may live is the ultimate sacrifice that one can give. As servicemembers and veterans, it is understood when we raise our right hands that there is a possibility that the jobs we've sworn to do could cost us our lives. In my opinion, it takes a special person to agree to those terms and still show the utmost commitment to accomplishing the mission - whatever it may be.

It takes a special person to wake up each morning at "0 dark-30," throw on a physical training uniform, complete with reflective vests and exercise for an hour or more, just to stay in shape so that they're able to defend our country when asked. These are the same men and women who part no words when asked to travel into distant, unknown territory to maintain peace for citizens of other countries, who may not have the means or experience to defend themselves when faced with a foreign enemy.

The world knows that when all else fails and there's no light at the end of the tunnel, it can call on the U.S. military to fix the problem and blast a hole through the hypothetical tunnel, thus making the world a better place.

While I understand the full scope of the sacrifices that are made by our servicemembers, there are others who are not fully aware of what the job entails. It is unrealistic to ask a local citizen to wake up tomorrow morning, leave his Family for 13 months, travel 8,000 miles away and defend another town in another part of the world. But our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen have been asked to do just that each day since 2001 and they have done it without fail.

During the Vietnam War, it is estimated that at least 58,236 U.S. servicemembers were killed in combat and another 153,452 suffered wounds. Adding to those numbers are an additional 1,711 who are still listed as missing-in-action. That's a total of 213,399 casualties in a 10-year span. In comparison, there were 203,100 citizens living in the city of Fayetteville, based on 2008 statistics.
Historically, servicemembers have shown great sacrifice for our great country and to be honest, if it were not for men and women in our military, the United States would not be known for what it is - America, the beautiful.

So, if you choose to enjoy the delightful treats provided by one of those restaurants this week, make sure that you take a moment to say thanks to a Soldier or veteran for the sweet, savory taste of freedom. After all, they've stayed up late many nights, ensuring that every American can enjoy it.