STURGIS | South Dakota's secretary of veterans affairs says veterans deserve a "thank you" every day, not just on special occasions.

"We celebrate and honor our veterans on Veterans Day. I think it would be kind of nice if America recognized both our fallen and our veterans every day," said Larry Zimmerman.

Everyone who raised their right hand and served their nation was ready to give that ultimate sacrifice, he said.

"God bless you and your families," he said. "Every day, we wake up to the gift of freedom because of the men and women who wore the uniform that stood guard and protected us. They are the greatest icon of the American spirit."

In the United States, 20 million have served or are serving in the military, Zimmerman said. That includes 70,000 in South Dakota.

"They are from all eras and everywhere across the state. They are from border to border and from our reservations. And they've served in all the conquests," he said.

Veterans served across the world and fought for our country's freedoms.

Among those in attendance Saturday, only one remained who had served in World War II, and that was Ernie Miller.

"Mr. Miller, thank you for your service," Zimmerman said.

There were also four Korean War veterans in attendance.

"Today's veterans stand on the shoulders of these World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans," Zimmerman said.

South Dakota has 2,203 World War II veterans. But that number is dwindling, Zimmerman said.

Other eras and their populations include Korean conflict, 6,003; Vietnam, 21,304; Gulf War, 27,254; and peacetime, 16,561. Pennington County has just under 12,000 veterans living in the county, second only to Minnehaha County's approximately 14,000.