This will be an extraordinary Thanksgiving, as this has been an extraordinary fall. So tomorrow let's express our deepest appreciation for those extraordinary uniformed men and women who enrich our nation.

How can we express enough thanks for those firefighters on Sept. 11? As one commentator reflected, the most unusual aspect of firefighters is their odd sense of direction: as throngs were pouring down and out of the World Trade Center, they were rushing in and up to save people. Nearly 350 of the brethren did not lose their lives on Sept. 11. They gave them.

And they continue to toil at the still-incendiary Ground Zero. One firefighter said the other day that the only time off he's taken off is to attend funerals of his fallen comrades. Heroes, all.

Next, we must remember the athletes who happened to board United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco on the 11th.

As Sports Illustrated described in an emotional story in the Sept. 24 issue: "The huge rugby player, the former high school football star and the onetime college baseball player were in first class, the former national judo champ was in coach. On the morning of Sept. 11, at 32,000 feet, those four men teamed up to sacrifice their lives for those of perhaps thousands of others." They didn't board the flight expecting to be heroes. Ordinary fellows, each one, until they proved so extraordinary.

Their widows graciously understand this. "A peace grew inside Liz Glick. 'I think God had this larger purpose for him,' she said. 'He was supposed to fly out the night before, but couldn't. I had [our daughter] Emmy one month early, so Jeremy got to see her. You can't tell me God isn't at work there.'"

And Sports Illustrated described how: "In Cranbury, N.J., a baby grew in Lisa Beamer, Todd's wife, their third child. Hearing the report last Friday of her husband's heroics, Lisa said, 'made my life worth living again.' It was Todd Beamer, after all, who told his wife he loved her and the children, before telling his flight-mates, 'Let's roll.'"

That they probably saved the Capitol building, or the White House, is an incomparable gift to the American people.

We are thankful, too, to the police and other rescue workers and to the mayor of New York. On Sept. 10, Rudolph Giuliani was an oft-mocked figure who was considered, at best, a controversial politician. He transformed himself into an extraordinary leader on Sept. 11 and every single day since. He's my candidate for Time magazine's "Man of the Year" for 2001.

And last, but surely not least, are those proudly wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. These men and women have, in the last several weeks, performed honorably and with dignity in defense of their fellow countrymen.

Americans gathering around their dining room tables tomorrow should give thanks for the continuing sacrifice and dedication of these men and women. These soldiers are fulfilling the traditional role that the greatest living military historian, John Keegan, celebrates in the closing paragraphs of his book, Fields of Battle: the Wars for North America:

Americans are proficient at war in the same way that they are proficient with work. It is a task, sometimes a duty.

Americans have worked at war since the seventeenth century, to protect themselves from Indians, to win their independence from George III, to make themselves one country, to win the whole of their continent, to extinguish autocracy and dictatorship in the world outside.

It is not their favored form of work. Left to themselves, Americans build, cultivate, bridge, dam, canalize, invent, teach, manufacture, think, write, lock themselves in struggle with eternal challenges that man has chosen to confront, and with an intensity not known elsewhere on the globe.

Bidden to make war their work, Americans shoulder the burden with intimidating purpose. There is, I have said, an American mystery, the nature of which I only begin to perceive. If I were obliged to define it, I would say it is the ethos — masculine, pervasive, unrelenting — of work as an end in itself.

War is a form of work, and America makes war, however reluctantly, however unwillingly, in a particularly workmanlike way.

I do not love war, but I love America.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.

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