This past Tuesday, more than 120 million Americans took part in choosing the next U.S. government. The outcome, displayed in relief on maps colored red and blue, reflects sharp partisan divisions across the country. Yet the results are undisputed.

Our elections and orderly transfers of power are sometimes described as peaceful revolutions.

They're made possible in part by the people we honor today: American veterans. Their service — and sacrifice — protects the right of all Americans to choose our leaders at the ballot box. There are 21.5 million veterans in the United States, according to census figures released last year. And no state boasts more veterans than California, the home of 1.9 million men and women who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

Their ranks will grow as the United States winds down operations in Afghanistan over the next two years, ending a war sparked by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Besides our thanks and admiration, these returning servicemen and women may need some help as they pursue post-military careers.

Tuition assistance for veterans to attend college or vocational schools is available through the new GIBill, and county veterans services offices have a track record of securing housing and other services for eligible vets. Adequate health care also must be provided, especially for veterans who were wounded or suffer from post-traumatic stress.

A letter to the editor that appeared on Election Day urged readers to greet veterans with the same enthusiasm that Bay Area baseball fans greeted the Giants after the World Series.

Today offers one such opportunity, as Petaluma hosts its annual Veterans Day parade, beginning at 1 p.m. Organizers expect more than 1,000 participants, including veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.

This day originally was set aside to commemorate the truce that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, in honor of all who serve. And just as the nation came together to vote Tuesday, today is a good day to join in another civilian tradition — thanking American veterans.