Sunday evening, May 29. I lounged on my living room couch enjoying the end of what had been a nappy afternoon, and now began thinking of what I might have for dinner and what the evening’s entertainment would be.
I had finished all the sections of my Sunday San Diego Union-Tribune, and settled back with my remote to browse the television channels for something worthwhile. I had watched parts of two major league baseball games–including my struggling San Diego Padres getting trounced by the Arizona Diamondbacks out in Arizona. Time for some less-intensive entertainment. I intended to check the usual channels including my local Public Broadcasting Station out of San Diego, which ordinarily always provided good programming on Sunday nights. You could count on that.
As I traversed the channels, each had nothing of interest to me pertaining to my desire for a peaceful night, not one of intense murder programs or other types of all-wrong televising for this particular evening.
I had not paid much attention to the time as I visited the litany of Cox Cable stations one-by-one. I had only traveled to three or four of them in my quest when I hit upon PBS and the announcement by two familiar, respected actors of note, Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna–two great choices with no right or left wing political baggage in tow–of the National Memorial Day Concert featuring the National Symphony Orchestra being held at the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C, two miles from Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place for more than four hundred thousand seven hundred Americans who had given their all, paid the ultimate price to guarantee our freedom and liberty. There, row upon endless row of white crosses stretch for as far as the eye can see, perfectly aligned no matter what angle look at them from.
Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, is our nation’s monument to valor, “… the field of the dead… ” It is six hundred twenty-four acres of pristine hallowed ground where fallen American military war casualties rest as witness to the cost of freedom. “Arlington shelters them all.” More than four million visitors a year pay their respects to them.
During the concert, Trace Adkins sang movingly and personally of those buried there with his acclaimed song, Arlington.
I’m proud to be on this peaceful piece of property,I’m on sacred ground and I’m in the best of company.
I’m thankful for those thankful for the things I’ve done,
I can rest in peace, I’m one of the chosen ones, I made it to Arlington.
And every time I hear twenty-one guns,I know they brought another hero home…
Joe Mantegna began by stating that it was raining in Washington, and many of the 300,000 of those who normally attend were at home watching it on television. “But our troops have served under far worse conditions than these,” Joe said, “so we will carry on.” A rousing cheer erupted from those in the audience.
Joe continued, “Gary and I look forward all year to hosting this extraordinary evening when we honor those who have given their lives for our country as well as those wounded veterans, our living memorials. All of us appreciate your sacrifice.”
The concert began with the National Symphony Orchestra accompanying American Idol Champion Trent Harmon in singing the National Anthem. He did so with none of the usual singer’s attempting to add their own flair to it. Trent sang it pure, straight, and beautifully–as it was intended to be sung.
The program moved quickly from one performer to another, from one renowned song to the next flawlessly. Even the Beach Boys were at their best, singing songs of those long ago, somewhat turbulent sixties.
The best of the evening? Alfie Boe closed out the 2016 National Memorial Day Concert with “Forever Young,” sang so movingly and passionately, which touched me as so surprisingly appropriate and so much appreciated, especially by the aging veterans and their families in attendance shown with tears in their eyes as the cameras scanned the audience.
May God bless and keep you alwaysMay your wishes all come true.
May you always do for others,
And let others do for you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong.
May your heart always be joyful.
May your song always be sung.
May you stay forever young.
At about 9:15 pm, the National Symphony Orchestra began to play a medley of the songs of each of our nation’s branches of the military. Gary announced each song until, near the last, the “Marines’ Hymn” began to play. I immediately jumped from my couch to stand at attention alone in my living room. Tears began to flow from my eyes, down my cheeks, and drop to the floor below. I still get those chills and that deep feeling of pride when I hear that familiar refrain and those memorable words I learned more than forty-nine years ago upon arriving at boot camp, Parris Island, South Carolina.
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
Too soon, the program was nearing an end. More than an hour had passed since I tuned in to this magnificent concert. Where had time gone so suddenly? I had the same question for all those years since 1968-1969 when I served in Vietnam. Where had time gone since the days I was so young and so dedicated to serving my country, as were so many others. I was sad that this program was concluding–it had stirred me with its music and honors rendered to our nation’s servicemen. I felt included, I felt part of it, and I felt grateful.
The inspiring, splendid, and thoroughly enjoyable National Memorial Day Concert was wrapping up. What a show! What music! What an appreciative display of thanks to veterans. It had moved me to tears several times, surprising me as well as arousing my feelings of gratefulness for such a joyous show of gratitude.
This brilliant musical tribute had certainly reminded us that Memorial Day was more than a four day weekend, backyard barbeques, and drinking liberal amounts of our favorite beer. Much more!
Gary and Joe: “As we say goodnight, we send a personal message to all those who have served our country, yet are suffering in body, mind, or spirit… don’t be afraid to reach out.” In doing so, Gary and Joe were advising–pleading even–for those who needed help to come forward, come out of the darkness that war puts one into, and come into the light.
These concluding words many had waited to hear for so long, and had probably missed them on many occasions, but may perhaps now be willing–eager even–to finally, at last, accept the outreach. Words so compelling, heartrending, and needing to be heard by many:
“… we are here for you… ”
Post Script: The concert was presented by Public Broadcasting (PBS). It is available on YouTube, and is a worthwhile expenditure of your time. I highly recommend you view it. It is a fitting tribute to those who have served our country, many having died doing so. It will bring you out of your lethargy in appreciating the price of freedom we enjoy, many times taking it for granted. If only for a few moments, you will come to recognize that what you are privileged to have here in the United States without much thought, has had a price for your doing so.