Jake Tapper: My Memorial Day Message

VIDEO: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on 50 years since the start of the Vietnam War.

(ABC News)

I hope you have a very meaningful Memorial Day. And a personal note - getting to know troops and their families these past two years while working on a book project, has left an indelible impression of the world of service and sacrifice made by so few on behalf of so many. To those missing someone this Memorial Day weekend, thank you - you are in our thoughts and prayers more often than you may know.

And this Memorial Day weekend, we mark 50 years since the official start of the Vietnam War. I recently took a walk with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to that powerful symbol of the fallen heroes, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to reflect on the meaning of sacrifice for country. Here's a portion of our conversation:

PANETTA: This was a bloody war, a bloody war, 58,000. When you consider Afghanistan and Iraq, I think we have lost now close to about 6,500 which is too many, but to think back to Vietnam and 58,000 lives that were lost.

TAPPER: And you know people on this wall.

PANETTA: Oh, yeah. I had three good friends who I went through ROTC with at Santa Clara. We all got commissioned. I went on to law school before I actually went in the service and they actually went right in, were deployed to Vietnam and lost their lives there.

TAPPER: What have we as a nation learn from that war?

PANETTA: We can never lose sight of men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line, fight and die for America. When the people to agree or disagree with the cause, when there are men and women willing to do that for this country, that is something, that's a strength that I hope we always appreciate and are grateful for in the future. And there's one thing this wall is all about it's a reminder that we always remember those who served.

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