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John Paradis: How voting honors veterans

Both were raised during the Depression in rural Maine. They remember the 1929 crash. They remember how attending school was a privilege and how tough it was for their parents to feed and clothe their children. They grew up without indoor plumbing, washing machines or dryers, and they certainly didn’t know what “vacation” meant.

My uncle was a Pearl Harbor survivor, flew combat missions during the war and was a test pilot in the Air Force. My dad entered the Navy at the end of the war and then completed another seven years, including service on a minesweeper in enemy waters during the Korean War. They have seen tumultuous times.

One is a Republican. The other is a Democrat. But they have one thing in common: they have voted in every general election and in most primaries, too. And they both see voting as an important privilege, and, like their proud military service, a duty.

As my father reminded me when I was turning 18 and getting ready to vote for the first time, “Voting is an important privilege,” he said. “In many countries, people aren’t allowed to vote.”

In their lifetime they’ve seen countries fall one after another from Nazi internal subversion and blitzkrieg attack. They can still remember the Japanese advance through Asia. They remember the Battle of Britain and how close it was. Democracy was not only threatened but often lost in the 20th century.

My father and uncle were from a generation with an overwhelming sense of patriotism, and, by and large, they are still a generation that votes in large numbers, even if it means getting to the polls in a wheelchair or with a walker or cane. They understand and value the power of the vote.

Since the 1960s, voter apathy has often been a top news story after an election. Now, low turnouts are the norm. Somehow people who fail to vote don’t see the connection between voting and how elected officials are important to their lives.

It is the connection with who will get your street cleaned, plowed, or repaired. And while you may depend on the private sector to make a living, who you vote for in the public sector may be who ensures you a safe workplace, who arbitrates between labor and management and who gets the budget done to have enough police for our neighborhoods.

Next month, for Veterans Day, people will show their gratitude for our veterans with parades and celebrations. That’s great and always welcomed. But here is a suggestion for an even stronger and more meaningful show of support: vote.

Vote for veterans like my dad and uncle, who understand why it is a privilege that no one should ever take for granted. Vote for all the men and women who fought our nation’s wars and never came home to exercise the privilege they died protecting.

Vote for every sailor, airman, coast guardsman and Marine at every outpost around the world. Vote because we are the citizens whose freedom they protect.

The same Constitution that our service men and women pledge to support and defend places the responsibility for America’s government in the hands of America’s citizens. The ballot box gives citizens the opportunity to completely change the makeup of our nation’s government. It’s the ability to stage a revolution without firing a single shot.

Our founders who fought in the American Revolution understood how truly terrible bloody revolutions would be. So they gave us a Constitution and a structure of government that enabled us to revolt without having to endure the horrors of war. And they gave us a military that has pledged to protect that structure.

We may not like everything the government has done or proposes to do. We may not like all the choices in the voting booth. But it’s our job as American citizens to do the research and to be as prepared as possible before casting our vote.

The right to vote may appear to have been cheapened by a cynical electorate that refuses to exercise it, but it is still America’s greatest legacy and it must be preserved.

This Veterans Day, let’s truly honor the men and women who have protected our structure of freedom by, five days before, voting. Let’s resolve that we will do our part to support and defend the Constitution by becoming informed and active participants in this and every election.

It’s the least that we can do in appreciation for their service.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a monthly column that appears on the second Friday. He is the public relations manager for the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds.

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