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Hagel: Acknowledge, learn from mistakes of past wars

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy Hagel15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history John Kirby to reprise role as Pentagon press secretary under Biden MORE urged Americans to learn from the lessons of past wars during a Veterans Day speech at the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington.

"There is nothing to be gained by glossing over the darker portions of a war that bitterly divided America," Hagel said, referring to the Vietnam War.

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"We must openly acknowledge past mistakes, and learn from them, because that is how we avoid repeating them," said Hagel, who served as an infantry squad leader in the Vietnam War and was wounded twice.

"The Wall reminds us that we must never take the security of our country for granted," he added. "And we must always question our policies that send our citizens to war, because our nation’s policies must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask of the men and women who defend our country."

His remarks coincide with the planned deployment of 1,500 additional U.S. troops to Iraq. There are currently 1,400 U.S. troops serving in Iraq, and about 20,000 serving in Afghanistan.

Hagel said the Vietnam War Memorial Wall was also a reminder to honor veterans and make sure they're treated with the dignity, respect and appreciation they deserve, and that those with visible and invisible wounds are cared for.

Hagel, who has lunch with junior enlisted personnel each month, said post-9/11 veterans don't want to be "glorified or given special treatment."

Instead, he said, they want the opportunity to continue serving.

"The entire 9/11 generation volunteered to serve at a time of war, and they have a strong desire to continue making a difference in the world whether by staying in the military, finding a job that engages them every day, pursuing another outlet for public service, or just being involved in their local communities," he said.

"They don’t need a handout or a hand up — they just want the opportunity to continue proving themselves,” he said. “It falls on us to make sure they get that opportunity.”