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On this upcoming Veterans Day, I encourage all Illinoisans to take a moment to honor and thank our veterans who bravely and honorably served our country.

Originally known as Armistice Day to honor and celebrate the end of World War I, Congress expanded the federal holiday in 1954 — renaming it Veterans Day — to recognize all U.S. veterans who served honorably in the military during wartime or peacetime.

The U.S. is the greatest country in the history of the world. We serve as a beacon of freedom and hope to many in the world living under hostile rule and deplorable conditions. Yet our freedom is not and has never been free. Those serving in the U.S. military defend our freedom both at home and abroad. I thank these brave men and women every day for their sacrifice and their commitment to protecting us and our cherished ideals.

I had the privilege of serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and as a member of the Illinois National Guard and Reserve. This experience helped shape me into the person I am today. I remain grateful to all those with whom I served and to those who served before and after me.

Please take time Monday, Nov. 11, to thank veterans for their service. It is the least we can do to recognize our heroes with a heartfelt gesture of gratitude and appreciation.

JESSE WHITEIllinois secretary of state