Life for members of the military and veterans has changed quite a bit over the last two centuries. From the winters of Valley Forge to the deserts of Afghanistan and every battle field in between, American servicemembers have exhibited the tenacity and resolve necessary to defend freedom, both here and abroad. They have endured injury, disease, weather, changes in warfare and technology, deserts, oceans, jungles, sprawling battlefields, foxholes and trenches. But time and time again, the men and women of our military have endured and overcome.

This week, the Concerned Veterans for America Foundation will take a look at how life has changed for the American soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, and Coast Guardsman over the course of our nation’s history. The living conditions, the fighting style, the weapons, the injuries, the uniforms and the enemies have all changed over time, but one thing remains the same – the dedication to protecting our nation.

The American warfighter came from the humblest beginnings, state militias made up of average citizens. Those militias battled the highly-trained British military until the Continental Army was established in June of 1775. In all, more than 300,000 served in both the Continental Army and militias throughout the Revolutionary War’s duration. Some 25,000 died, 8,000 were wounded and 1,500 disappeared. Many fell simply from injuries or disease. They lined up against the most powerful military in the world with smoothbore muskets. They continue to inspire generations.

Just a few decades later, the British would be fought off again in the “Second War of Independence,” the War of 1812. Thousands more died, but they defended their still new liberty in the midst of restricted trade and a burning capital.

The Civil War would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and was a turning point for the care of veterans in this nation. Two-thirds of those soldiers died from disease. Both sides began using a draft to fill the ranks. Just before the end of the war, President Abraham Lincoln uttered the now famous promise to “care for him who shall have borne the battle.” Disabled veterans were provided a pension and “old soldiers’ homes” were built to house those who had fought in the war. This is the legacy the Department of Veterans Affairs is built on.

These were the wars to establish a free nation at home. These were the wars that inspired thousands more to continue the quest to protect freedom and liberty at all costs. As we approach Veterans Day, we remember these defenders of freedom who endured the hardships of war with little food, clothing, supplies, and adequate medicine. But they had hope for the American experiment that continues into today.