National Memorial Day Concert

A Marine Bugler salutes after playing taps at the World War II Memorial.

2019 Concert Features

D-Day: The 75th Anniversary

On one of the most pivotal days of World War II, June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched greatest combination of sea, land and air power in history. It was D-Day on the coast of Normandy, and five thousand died on the beaches, most in the first few hours. Among those in the first wave was SGT Ray Lambert. As a medic in the 1st Infantry Division, SGT Lambert participated in some of the fiercest battles of World War II from North Africa to Sicily and he had already been awarded two Silver Stars for bravery and three Purple Hearts.

SGT Ray Lambert’s story of bravery was shared on the 2019 National Memorial Day Concert, along with a tribute to heroes who sacrificed and died in service to our nation and the world.

Vietnam: Valor and Brotherhood

In the 50 years since the height of the Vietnam War the painful memories from their service remain fresh for many of its veterans. Right after the war, when Vietnam vets returned home, they didn’t get the reception that veterans of previous wars received. Instead of parades, they were often met with derision. Because of this, they banded together, forming support groups and communities to care for each other.

Ernest “Pete” Peterson and Brad Kennedy served together in the 11th U.S. Cavalry. Though they came from different backgrounds, they found common ground in Vietnam. Many years later, Pete and Brad found themselves again side-by-side, this time at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, where they reunite each Memorial Day and Veterans Day to honor their buddies.

The 2019 National Memorial Day Concert shared the story of Pete and Ernest’s enduring bond and paid tribute to Vietnam combat veterans.

A Gold Star Widow's Journey

SFC Collin Bowen was weeks away from returning home to his wife, Ursula, and their 3-year-old daughter, Gabriela, when he volunteered for one last mission because he knew the terrain so much better. Before he left, he charged up his phone and told his wife that every day he would call so she would know he was okay but on January 1, 2008, Ursula didn’t hear from him. Instead, she received the devastating news that Collin was severely injured and burned in an IED attack. After 15 surgeries and over 2 months in the hospital, Collin died of his injuries on March 14, 2008. With friends and a community helping her through the hardest time in her life, Ursula was able to parent Gabriela and move forward with her life.

The 2019 National Memorial Day Concert shared Gold Star widow Ursula Palmer’s journey from grief to healing and her resolve to find purpose in helping wounded warriors and other families who’ve lost a loved one in service to our nation.

2018 Concert Features

Korean War: The Bonds of Service

On June 25, 1950, the army of North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union, launched a full-scale attack against South Korea. American and UN soldiers were thrust unprepared into the harshest battle conditions in an unforgiving land. Among those American soldiers captured by the Chinese were best friends Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura and Joe Annello. During the attack, Hiroshi heroically fought against the Chinese forces, allowing for his squad to safely withdraw as he and Joe were taken prisoner.

Joe and Hiroshi’s friendship, endurance and heroism was shared on the 2018 National Memorial Day Concert.

Vietnam: Remembering Khe Sanh

In January 1968, fifty years ago, a truce was called in the middle of the Vietnam War in honor of the Lunar New Year, or Tet. In spite of the agreement, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong troops launched a surprise, full-scale offensive on cities across South Vietnam. One of these targets was the remote Marine base at Khe Sanh in the Quảng Trị Province. Where 40,000 enemy troops faced up against only 2,500 Marines.

Among those fighting were the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, also referred to as “The Walking Dead” battalion due to having the highest casualty rate in Marine Corps history. Of the nearly 3,000 Marines who served with the 1/9 in Vietnam, over 25% would be Killed in Action. One young squad leader, Sergeant Bill Rider, survived, but the memories of those he lost in Khe Sanh have haunted him for fifty years.

Bill Riders‘ journey to heal himself and others was shared on the 2018 National Memorial Day Concert.

Women in Service

On June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the historic Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. In the 70 years since, more than 2 million women have served in our armed forces. The 2018 concert shares the story of Leign Ann Hester.

As a child, Leigh Ann Hester’s father took her to see parade where she watched service men and women march in uniform. Looking up as they moved in sharp formation, Leigh Ann knew she wanted to be one of them one day— she longed to serve her country. In April 2001, age 21, her childhood dream became reality when she joined the National Guard. Hester enlisted as a Military Police Officer, because it was, in 2001, one of the few positions a woman could get out into the field. On March 20, 2005, SFC Hester led a Humvee providing protection for 30 semi-tractor trailers outside of Bagdad. Suddenly, they were ambushed by gunfire. From a nearby orchard and in ditches along the road, over 50 insurgents were attacking from all sides. Leigh Ann and a fellow squad leader, SSG Timothy Nein, ran straight into the gunfire with no cover to fire back.

This story of bravery was shared on the 2018 National Memorial Day Concert.

2017 Concert Features

Healing the Wounds of War: CPT Avila's Story

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.

The Last Doolittle Raider: Col. Richard Cole

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.

Gold Star Legacy: Honoring the Service and Sacrifice of Loved Ones

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.

A Tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen

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

Arlington Cemetery: A Gold Star Mother’s Perspective

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.

Vietnam: Commemorating American Service and Sacrifice

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

The Italian Campaign: Battle of Anzio

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

Disabled Veterans Inspire a Memorial

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.

Supporting Our Gold Star Children

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.

The End of WWII: Commemorating the Allied Victory

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

Wounds of Afghanistan — A Story of Inspiring Resilience

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.

A Mother’s Loss

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.

Commemorating D-Day — The Beginning of the End of WWII

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.”