Memorial Day Concert

view of Capitol from orchestra stage
Image Courtesy of Capital Concerts

view of concert and Washington Monument
Image Courtesy of Capital Concerts

concert view from the Capitol
Image Courtesy of Capital Concerts

Capitol celebration honors America's servicemen and women

Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell wrapped up his comments at the May 29 National Memorial Day Concert with two words for the millions of Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Welcome home.”

The free concert, held on the Capitol’s west lawn, was a resounding welcome home not only for recent veterans but also those who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and other conflicts. An audience of thousands packed the lawn and Capitol steps to honor America’s veterans while also reveling in the music of blues great B.B. King, the National Symphony Orchestra, the U.S. Army Chorus, the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants, and others.

Conrad Newton has been coming to the annual concert since it began 22 years ago. “It’s a day for me to thank my family members for doing a service for the country,” he said. Newton’s family has a long military tradition including a brother who served in Vietnam, a cousin and sister who served in World War II, and a grandfather who served in World War I.

Co-hosted by Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna, the concert featured a 10-year commemoration of the events of September 11, 2001, and a 70-year commemoration of Pearl Harbor honoring World War II veterans, among other special events.

A mother of two children, 7 and 9, said she had brought her family to the concert as a kind of real-life civics lesson. “They learn about Memorial Day in school, but it shouldn’t all be books and lessons.”

During a tribute to troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, actors including Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Dianne Wiest read family members’ remembrances of loved ones who had died in combat and veterans’ testimonials about the struggle to readjust to civilian life. The audience learned that more than 400,000 recent veterans have reported symptoms of traumatic brain injury or TBI, while more than 200,000 have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD.

The stories hit home for Vietnam veteran John Williams who says he suffers from PTSD. Williams choked up as he spoke of his time on a Navy patrol boat in the Mekong Delta. Coming to the concert was a kind of therapy for invisible war wounds and a way of remembering fallen comrades. “It has a meaning that words can’t express,” he said. “It gives it a deeper significance to be here. So many didn’t make it back.”

The concert was broadcast live on PBS and worldwide via American Forces Network. For more information, including rebroadcast listings and resources for service members and their families, visit the PBS Memorial Day Concert website.