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Veterans Day is a fitting reminder of the values we cherish and defend

November 10 at 1:13 PM

IT WAS Election Day when they brought the remains of Maj. Brent Taylor back home from Afghanistan, days after he had been killed in that country, where he was serving as a National Guard officer. A husband and a father of seven children, ages 13 years to 11 months, Mr. Taylor was also mayor of a small town in Utah — a conscientious, committed public servant whose four overseas deployments were a testament to his selflessness and sacrifice as a citizen-soldier.

It was coincidence that Mr. Taylor’s body arrived home as Americans went to the polls last Tuesday; it was also apt. On Facebook, shortly before he was killed, he wrote the last of his frequent messages, a characteristically earnest, idealistic post. “I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote,” he said. “Whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, I hope that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us.”

That heartfelt wish is no gauzy sentiment; it was and remains a fitting reminder on this Veterans Day, which honors millions of men and women who have served their country, of the values they and we cherish and defend. It’s easy to lose sight of those values in this long season of partisan pandemonium and vitriol. It is Americans such as Mr. Taylor who, by his life and death, rightly insist they be kept in focus.

On Election Day, veterans won at least 77 seats in the House of Representatives, joining 15 others already in the U.S. Senate. Seventeen of those headed to the House will be first-termers, and together they make up the largest cohort of veterans in Congress in almost a decade.

That matters. Veterans’ representation in Washington, as in the American population, has been dropping for years. For much of the later decades of the 20th century, vets who had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam accounted for more than half the members of Congress. That share shrank to less than 20 percent in recent years, approaching an all-time low, and their paucity likely has been a contributing cause to Capitol Hill’s long descent into tribalism.

Veterans — trained in teamwork, and perhaps less invested in proving their toughness with public put-downs and posturing — are more inclined to work across the aisle. According to the Lugar Center, veterans in Congress sign on to bipartisan legislation more often than members who have not served in the military. That’s one of many ways in which they help stitch together a frayed, fractious nation.

Mr. Taylor seemed unusually mindful of that — his life was a tribute to the unifying qualities that America sees as the best of itself. On Veterans Day last year, he spoke to vets in North Ogden, where he was mayor. “The sacrifices of you and so many of your comrades have made it possible for America to be a source of light, scientific growth, and human progress throughout its entire history,” he said. “I thank you, and I pray always that God will bless America.”

It was Mr. Taylor himself, and his family, who also deserve the thanks.