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Hagel marks Memorial Day with video ‘message of thanks’

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel marked his first Memorial Day as Pentagon chief Monday by releasing a video message thanking the nation’s servicemembers, and paying special tribute to those who gave their lives.

“These are not easy times for our country and for the world and certainly these are not easy times to be part of our armed forces,” said Hagel in the video, which shows clips of military members and their families.

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“Memorial Day is a uniquely American day. It is the one day of the year we set aside completely to remember, to honor and thank those who give so much and have given so much for this country.” Hagel added.

He thanked the nation’s military families “for their tremendous sacrifices.”

Hagel who was sworn in as Defense chief in February, replacing former Secretary Leon Panetta, said serving in the position was “a great honor.”

A veteran who served in the Vietnam War, Hagel touched on his experiences in the video. “I’m proud of my background, I’m proud of my career. Nothing makes me prouder than my association with the military and the veterans,” he said.

“Our country will never forget those who fell in battle and those who have yet to return home. Their dedication and selfless service resonates deeply across the country and their legacy is carried forward proudly by those who wear our nation’s uniform today,” said Hagel.

President Obama will honor the nation’s fallen servicemembers with the ceremonial wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday morning. Before visiting Arlington, the president and first lady will host a breakfast at the White House with families of servicemembers who have been killed.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama said that while the holiday marks the unofficial start of summer, Americans should also pause to remember the real reason for Memorial Day.

“They gave America the most precious thing they had – 'the last full measure of devotion.' And because they did, we are who we are today – a free and prosperous nation, the greatest in the world,” he said of the those killed in battle.

"That is the purpose of Memorial Day," said Obama. "To remember with gratitude the countless men and women who gave their lives so we could know peace and live in freedom.