I was fully consumed studying for college finals and preparing for a service trip to El Salvador when my best friend returned home from Iraq in 2004. I desperately wanted to be there in North Carolina when he stepped off the plane, planted his feet firmly back on U.S. soil and felt the warm embrace of his mother. But I couldn't make it.

My mother went in my place. She drove down with his little brother and my other best friend. I relived the moment through their words and pictures.

I know my being there was not nearly as important as the fact that he arrived home safely. And he and I have spent much time together since he's been home -- both then and again after he returned from a tour in Afghanistan.

His older brother, a father of two, is now in Afghanistan. He's expected to be home in time for Thanksgiving -- that's truly something to be thankful for.

Growing up I always envisioned war veterans as old-timers; guys who were old enough to be my grandfather. Life experiences and two wars have a way of changing your perception, though.

War veterans are our neighbors and friends, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and, yes, our grandparent's age. I'm sure any veteran will tell you that they all deserve to be held in the same high regard; that no veteran is more special than another. This is true. But, at the same time, I cannot help but feel especially reverent of our oldest veterans -- those who served in World War II and whose numbers grow smaller with each day.

My grandfather, a U.S. Navy veteran of that "Greatest Generation," died earlier this year.

He served in the military for the same reason that our young veterans do today: for the love of country.

Like our veterans, we love the United States of America and all the ideals that it stands for. We love our veterans for their willingness to put their lives on the line to defend our nation.

Tomorrow, Veteran's Day, is the perfect time to express this gratitude and respect. The date is far from arbitrary, too.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs informs us that World War I -- known at the time as "The Great War" -- officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, Nov. 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of "the war to end all wars."

In recognition of this critical moment in history, the Veterans Day National Ceremony takes place each year on Nov. 11, at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony commences precisely at 11 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans' organizations and remarks from dignitaries. The ceremony is intended to honor and thank all who served in the United States Armed Forces.

The Town of Westport will pay similar respects at its annual Veterans Day ceremony on Thursday morning, at 11 a.m. in the Town Hall auditorium.

Organizations scheduled to pay tribute to veterans at the event include the Westport Community Band, the Westport Police Department Honor Guard, members of the Joseph J. Clinton Post 399, Veterans of Foreign Wars, representatives of the Ladies Auxiliary Post 399, and members of the August Mathias Post 63 American Legion, according to Westport Veterans Council President William Vornkahl.

We encourage all those who are able to attend to go and show their support for our veterans, young and old. If you can't make it, take a moment to reflect on the significance of the day. Our veterans deserve all of our thoughts, prayers and gestures of appreciation -- no matter where we are or what we have going on in our life.

Gary Jeanfaivre is the editor of the Westport News. He can be reached at gjeanfaivre@bcnnew.com