On this special day set aside to honor veterans, I want to share something special to me. On Nov. 11, 1939, Armistice Day, I could see dark clouds building up over Europe as Hitler was getting stronger and stronger with each day. So on that day I convinced my father and mother to let me join the National Guard Unit in Altoona, Penn. So I did, and today I am celebrating the 73rd anniversary of entering military service. I have never regretted that I joined and served our nation.



Having been born in Italy and growing up under the fascist rule of Mussolini until the age of 10, I appreciate our freedoms very highly and donít take them for granted.



At the age of nine, I remember very vividly when on a special fascist celebration day, our entire village, about the size of Niceville, was told to get out and watch the parade. I was standing next to an elderly man who was bent over at the waist almost 90 degrees with what might have been osteoporosis. Some fascist Black Shirts walked ahead of the parade and in front of the people lining the street to ensure that everyone raised their right arm in the fascist salute.



The old man next to me could not raise his arm because of his physical condition. The fascist guards grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out of line and walked him up to the town dungeon, which was only 100 or so yards up the street.



That incident, although happening more than 80 years ago, left an indelible mark in my mind and always reminds me of what happens when freedom is lost.



Read more about Lombardo's amazing record of service, click here.



So on this day, I wish to honor all veterans and to thank them for their service to our nation. Itís because of them that we can still live free in this great country of ours.



They have defended America through both the best and worst of times, and they have performed their difficult duties tirelessly, with little recognition or fanfare. They have sought neither fortune nor fame. A simple love of country and liberty compelled them to serve this great nation of ours.



We thank our veterans for this selfless service and recognize that their devotion makes them a source of inspiration for all to emulate. They know what it is like to stand guard in the chill of the night while others sleep. They understand the meaning of hardship; standing watch at freedomís frontier far away from loved ones.



They have seen the horror of war and catastrophe.



Yet they endure, and it is this devotion to duty that gives us strength. It inspires todayís military men and women to serve.



Looking out on the world today, we can see how this unbroken line of heroes continues the work of veterans from bygone eras.



Today, instead of militias and the Continental Army of Gen. George Washington protecting our nation, it is a team of National Guardsmen, Army Reservists, and active duty servicemen and women of all services who defend us.



Currently, our servicemen are serving in 120 countries throughout the world, and the legacy of our veterans continues to inspire each of them to answer the call to duty.



In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil, our military did the job of taking the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that is not enough.



We now know our enemies will not be deterred solely by our ability to retaliate. We must and will be vigilant. We will maintain our fighting spirit and our servicesí values. For our servicemen, like the veterans who came before them, will always draw their strength from Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine values ó loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. These values have always been with our troops, and they continue to sustain us.



They know our nation was founded not on the guarantees of the past, but the promises of the future. They know that freedom isnít free and that eternal vigilance is the price we must always pay for our liberty.



As Americans we are known for wanting a quick fix, but we must realize that the War on Terrorism will last a while.



I am so grateful that I live in this free country and that I have been given the opportunity to serve and contribute, however little, to preserve our freedoms along with all my fellow veterans. I am proud to be called an American veteran. Because of our veterans, our nation continues to a beacon of freedom and the greatest country on earth.



Thank you and may God bless you, our servicemen, veterans, our citizens and the United States of America.



Samuel Lombardo is a 93-year-old Destin resident who fought in World War II in the European Theater. After the Battle of the Bulge, Lombardoís platoon created a makeshift American flag, which became one of the first U.S. flags to fly in Germany. While we are losing about 1,200 WWII veterans every day, Lombardo is a touchstone to the Greatest Generation and a true hero in our midst here in Destin.