2017 Concert Features
On December 27, 2011, U.S. Army Captain Luis Avila was leading a search and secure mission along the Pakistani border of Afghanistan. CPT Avila joined the Army in 2000, just before the September 11th terrorist attacks, and was in the midst of serving his fifth overseas deployment. On his way back to base, a 600-pound improvised explosive device detonated beneath CPT Avila’s vehicle, splitting it in half. Miraculously, after 40 days in a coma, CPT Avila woke up. Although he couldn’t see, talk or eat, he heard and responded to the music Claudia played. It was a monumental step forward, but a long road of recovery lie ahead.
CPT Avila’s recovery and passion for therapeutic music was shared on the 2017 National Memorial Day Concert.
On April 18, 1942, just four months after Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, 16 B-25 bombers took off from the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier positioned in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a top-secret mission. Their destination: Tokyo. Led by famed airman Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, this daring raid had numerous objectives, including persuading the Japanese high command that its home islands were not invulnerable to American attack. Colonel Richard “Dick” Cole, Doolittle’s co-pilot during the momentous raid, is the sole surviving veteran of a group forever known to history as the Doolittle Raiders. The 2017 National Memorial Day Concert documented Cole’s harrowing journey and celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, commemorating the service and sacrifice of the Greatest Generation.
Jacke Walton was only six-years-old when her father, Special Forces Sergeant First Class Lewis Clark Walton, shipped off to Vietnam in 1970. As a Green Beret, there was a strong possibility that SFC Walton would find himself in harm’s way. In May of 1971, SFC Lewis Clark Walton and two fellow Green Berets were part of a long-range reconnaissance team dropped into a remote area of Quang Nam Province near the Laotian border. During the excursion, chaos ensued; the patrol was ambushed and they were never heard from again. Years later the discovery and subsequent burial of SFC Lewis Clark Walton’s remains provided closure for Jacke and brother Lew. It brought fresh grief and underscored how difficult it had been growing up without a dad. The 2017 National Memorial Day Concert paid tribute to SFC Lewis Clark Walton and his courageous family who never gave up the search for his remains.
Prior to 1947, the Army Air Corps and Army Air Forces, the precursors to the United States Air Force, played a crucial role in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II. Perhaps no group was more heroic than the Tuskegee Airmen, an African American band of aviators who demonstrated an unwavering strength of human spirit against overwhelming personal odds. Nearly 1,000 black pilots from across the country came to train at Alabama’s Tuskegee University between 1941 and 1946. The 2017 National Memorial Day Concert celebrated the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force and commemorated its proud history and heritage, by paying tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and remembering the service and sacrifice of all American aviators who have served our country, including those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
2016 Concert Features
Established during the Civil War, Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most recognizable and hallowed burial grounds in the United States. Section 60 is designated as the final resting place for more than a thousand American troops killed while serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly every weekend, Paula Davis travels here to visit the grave of her son -– her only child -– Private First Class Justin R. Davis, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. Paula is rarely alone when she grieves; she’s part of a group of mourning family members who make the pilgrimage to Section 60 on a regular basis.
The 2016 National Memorial Day Concert shared Paula Davis’ story of grief and remembrance.
At the height of the Vietnam War, 1st LT Jack Farley (USA) was drafted and served in the 25th Infantry Division, the Wolfhounds. On January 10, 1969, Viet Cong forces began to shell Farley’s support base with mortar fire. One of the shells exploded next to him, sending shrapnel into his body. For Farley, his toughest battle would be in the months and years ahead. He lost his leg above the knee and, along with it, the dream of the life he’d planned for himself.
Jack’s inspirational journey to find his new life’s purpose was shared on the 2016 National Memorial Day Concert
Private First Class Alton W. Knappenberger, of the 3rd Infantry Division, was one of the thousands of Americans bogged down at the front. Nicknamed “Knappie” by his friends, the twenty-year-old farm boy grew up hunting rabbits and birds in the forests of eastern Pennsylvania. The marksmanship he perfected in his youth would play a crucial role as the Allies struggled to hold the line in early 1944 and lead to his being awarded the Congressional Medal Honor, the highest decoration for valor in action against an enemy force.
The 2016 National Memorial Day Concert highlighted Alton’s incredible story of bravery and heroism in the face of adversity.
2015 Concert Features
In the fall of 1966, on a quiet Sunday morning in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Ted Strong tripped a land mine that severed his right arm and later led to amputation of his right leg at the hip.
Ted’s life since then — learning to walk again, graduating from college on the GI bill, raising a family — is a lesson in resilience and compassion.
Ted’s story, showcased during the 2015 National Memorial Day Concert, is just one of many shared at the recently created American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Cameron and Bayleigh Dostie were just starting back to school in September 2005 when their father, Shawn, deployed to Iraq. When a roadside bomb struck his unit’s Humvee, Shawn threw himself in the way of the hit, sacrificing his life so that three platoon-mates would live. Shawn's children became members of a special and solemn group: Gold Star children: survivors whose parents died while serving in the U.S. military.
The 2015 National Memorial Day Concert continued its tradition of sharing Gold Star stories and explained how this newest generation of Gold Star children need not make their journey alone.
Seventy years ago, the Allies' victories in Europe and the Pacific finally brought an end to World War II. Over 400,000 U.S. troops were killed serving their country and more than 60 million men, women and children lost their lives worldwide.
The 2015 National Memorial Day Concert welcomed World War II veterans onstage — among them, Lester M. Bornstein, a retired corporal who served in five campaigns from Normandy to Czechoslovakia.
2014 Concert Features
The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in devastating injuries. Marine sergeant John Peck was gravely injured in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2010, when an IED exploded underneath his feet. He woke up two months later at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., after 29 surgeries and 43 pints of transfused blood, as a quadruple amputee.
On the 2014 National Memorial Day Concert, we shared the story of John’s inspiring resilience.
Behind every man and woman at war is a family on the home front. U.S. Army Ranger Kristofor Stonesifer was a brave and committed young American whose life goals included becoming a service member. When he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, his family did too.
On the 2014 National Memorial Day Concert, we told the story of Ruth Stonesifer, who became the first Operation Enduring Freedom mother to take on the national presidency of the American Gold Star Mothers.
On the 2014 National Memorial Day Concert we commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy that turned the tide of World War II. Perhaps the most desperate mission of the entire invasion was that of the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion, known as Dog Company. Their harrowing attack on the German cannons atop the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc was shared on the National Memorial Day Concert, in a dramatic presentation along with a musical tribute to the “greatest generation.”