Today is a Veterans Day with a gravity the United States hasn’t seen in decades.

That’s acutely the case for Afghanistan War veterans 73 days after the U.S. military departed the country Aug. 30. Since, Afghanistan has again become a hive for the oppressive theological totalitarianism of the Taliban.

Many Americans since August have turned their attention to other news. But the veterans in our communities have lived each of the past 73 days with the torn conscience of the tragic irresolution in Afghanistan — a place where they served their country, befriended Afghan people and advanced democratic liberty.

The boots-on-the-ground veterans of the Afghanistan War were, are and will be among the greatest of this American generation. That’s the case even if many Americans felt it was best for the United States to depart Afghanistan after 20 years of efforts to cultivate democracy.

Long before it was a popular perspective here on the homefront to advocate for withdrawal from Afghanistan, the vast majority of Americans were gung-ho for a victory after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. While many preached avenging Osama bin Laden, some patriots actually put their principles into practice.

In an era without a military draft, a select few were brave enough to enlist. They included fathers, for love of the country, tying up their combat boots for the first time in front of their little boys. They included young women who were the first females in the family to follow in the military footsteps of fathers, uncles and granddads. And they included young men who took pride in completing whatever they could in the ruthless foreign land to do what we all said we’d do on the night of Sept. 11, 2001: fight for freedom.

Fought they did. And fight they continue, on several fronts, as they harbor an aching soul in the wake of August’s disastrous withdrawal. It’s the calamitous coda to the conflict many veterans feel was a careless undertaking — a slap in the face of any private who served on Afghan soil.

When these veterans signed up for Afghanistan, they never thought years later they’d be able to relate to Vietnam War veterans. Not only do the conclusions of the conflicts feel like mirror images, but also with so many left behind, Afghanistan War veterans are experiencing something more soul sucking.

Veterans know the government executed a dishonorable dereliction of a withdrawal because they knew the country would, at some point, regress toward totalitarianism.

Meanwhile, Americans have gone from singing “God Bless America” in unison when we entered Afghanistan to, 20 years later, feeling as if our one nation under God is actually quite divisible. Animus is palpable. Societal schisms are further spawning and separating. It would make Osama bin Laden proud.

As for the withdrawal our generation’s veterans are wrestling with, it isn’t just shameful. It’s also not remotely reconciled. While President Joe Biden, other politicians and talking heads make public statements attempting to put a bow on the Afghanistan War, veterans know the reality of this situation that continues on the other side of the planet. They know though our government has called it quits on their rescue operation, the sorry situation isn’t over.

So, they soldier on. They continue to try to help in the here and now while also working to derive a post-war purpose for their wartime service. With all their heartfelt connections to Afghan people, our veterans are at the heart of the ragtag rebel effort to extricate thousands left behind. It’s a risky, logistical nightmare of an undertaking by brave patriots that has continued via independent rescue entities week after week since Aug. 30.

Alongside all that, these veterans are people among us who have lost, in many cases, more military friends to suicide than combat in Afghanistan. As such, the fight toward their own personal victory — and triumph as freedom fighters — has only just begun.

Sadly we have a commander in chief who left Americans and allies behind to die. The rest of us owe it all the more to those who served in Afghanistan to express our appreciation. And let’s not just tell them — let’s show them by extending a helping hand to them in their time of need. They are heroes who deserve a hero’s welcome. Let’s thank them, embrace them and support them in the many ways they now need our support.

The Gazette editorial board

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