Joe Mantegna returns as a host of annual concert
A 30-year run speaks to the National Memorial Day Concert’s value in helping America honor members of its Armed Forces, past and present.
Originated by the late Jerry Colbert and now executive-produced by his son Michael, the PBS program marks its three-decade milestone Sunday, May 26 (check local listings). Joe Mantegna (“Criminal Minds”) and former “The West Wing” and “The Kids Are Alright” co-star Mary McCormack will host on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day and saluting Vietnam War veterans while introducing guest actors and musicians.
Among those featured: recent Oscar nominee Sam Elliott (“A Star Is Born”) and fellow actors Dennis Haysbert (“24,” “The Unit”) and Jaina Lee Ortiz (“Station 19”); singers Patti LaBelle, Alison Krauss and Justin Moore; and singer-actors Amber Riley (“Glee”) and Christopher Jackson (“Bull,” “Hamilton”). General Colin L. Powell (Ret.) is scheduled to make his traditional appearance, and Jack Everly will return to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra.
Also streaming live on the PBS Web site (www.pbs.org), Facebook and YouTube, this year’s National Memorial Day Concert signifies Mantegna’s 18th appearance overall in the event. “It doesn’t seem that long, but I guess the time just goes by,” he reflects. “I initially brought Dennis Haysbert into it a few years ago, and he and I are going to do a piece about two Vietnam buddies.
“Denis Leary also is somebody I brought in, and Bonnie Hunt … and Gary Sinise,” adds Mantegna. “Charlie Durning did that for me, basically bringing me in, and that was a thing I took on. It’s very gratifying for me because so often, the people who do it want to come back.”
Guest performer Elliott has visited Washington before, once for a White House screening of the movie “We Were Soldiers” (in which he co-starred), and another time for an occasion that affected him deeply. On the July 4th after 9/11, he attended a celebration at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and ended up giving an unplanned speech in which he expressed feeling guilty over having not served in Vietnam. (He had fulfilled his military obligation by serving at home in the Air National Guard.)
Elliott recalls a moment after the speech, standing and talking with a group of veterans next to the wall, when one of them in a wheelchair “looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Two things, Sam: 1.) Don’t ever regret any service you’ve done for your country. And 2.) If I had had an opportunity to join the f…in’ Guard, I would have.’ That spoke volumes to me, and it helped me make peace with something that had dogged me for a long time.”