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Romney warns of perils of shrinking military at Memorial Day event

Denis Poroy / Reuters

Mitt Romney, center, war veteran Nick Popaditch, left, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., applaud during a Memorial Day event at the Veterans Museum & Memorial Center in San Diego on Monday.

SAN DIEGO-- Mitt Romney took advantage of one of his largest crowds of the campaign season on Memorial Day to warn of the dangers of a shrinking U.S. military in a dangerous world.

Echoing portions of his stump speech in which he cites the threat of a resurgent Russia, a nuclear Iran and a rising China as obstacles to an "American Century," Romney closed his speech at this Memorial Day tribute to veterans with a political message about a choice between divergent military philosophies this November.

"We have two courses we can follow: One is to follow the pathway of Europe. To shrink our military smaller and smaller to pay for our social needs. And they of course rely on the strength of America and they hope for the best. Were we to follow that kind of course, there would be no one that could stand to protect us," Romney told an audience his campaign said numbered roughly 5000 people.

"The other is to commit to preserve America as the strongest military in the world, second to none, with no comparable power anywhere in the world. We choose that course. We choose that course for America not just so that we can win wars, but so we can prevent wars."

President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney both marked Memorial Day with speeches and politics wasn't far below the surface. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Regular rally trappings like pro-Romney signage were absent at this event, which took on a more solemn character than a traditional campaign stop. Romney did not mention or attack the President in his remarks today, which were instead focused on saluting military veterans and their families, including his predecessor in the role of Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, who joined him on stage Monday.

"We're a nation that has been formed and preserved by heroes," Romney said. "John McCain is one of them."

Obama honors fallen troops on Memorial Day

McCain, for his part, also praised Romney, calling him "fully qualified to be commander in chief."

The two men and their pro-military message were warmly received here under the blazing midday sunlight. San Diego is home to the US Navy's Pacific Fleet, and Naval Base San Diego is the largest such military community on the West Coast.