I thought I was done blogging about Memorial Day for this year but I am not. A PBS Memorial Day special last night changed my mind. I was not aware of the Memorial Day Concert on PBS til I turned to channel 13 last evening after two of our sons, one daughter in law and two grandsons (the baby boys! who are both 13 now) had left the farm and headed back to their homes. Then I turned on Channel 13 to see if Masterpiece/Mystery was on and I found that it was replaced by the National Memorial Day Concert from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. How fortunate I was to tune in to that memoriable special!
There may be many of you who also watched it last night so forgive me if I tell about the Concert in this blog. I was so delighted with the dignity and the soberness of that program! Sometimes I get a bit disapointed with the "Glorious Fourth" celebration from Washington, D.C. also broadcast on PBS on the night of the 4th of July each summer. That is only because I am so conservative and also crave dignity on such patriotic and special national holidays. The 4th of July concert is filled with a lot of Pop culture icons performing and other things that I consider NOT dignified for such a holiday…but that is me and my personal tastes. The 4th of July IS meant for celebrating our nation and its incomparable freedom and liberty and for modern folks, the happy Pop music is a way of celebrating. But then there’s me…who wants to hear all the old patriotic music of my childhood and youth!
But the Memorial Day Concert was so satisfying to this old conservative’s soul. It was hosted by Gary Sinese and Joe Montegna. Both men were solemn and dignified throughout the concert. The music was wonderful…the singing of the National Anthem by Yolanda Adams was particularly moving. Lionel Ritchie performed along with the backing of the National Symphony and several choruses of MIlitary men and women from the U.S. armed forces traditional choirs…I cannot remember all of their special names but the Army , Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine singers were all represented in their distinctive dress uniforms. After the videos of the Military cemeteries in the many countries our Military has fought in the massed choir sang a particular moving anthem whose title I cannot completely remember but the theme was that the Fallen soldiers rest in the mighty hands of God….it was about the final resting place of heavenly mansions and I was so moved by it…the music and singing were so beautiful and I was so grateful that the current political correctness about never mentioning anything about God at a public ceremony was not followed!
I was most moved by two performances by 4 actors who portrayed people who have gone through the experience of military battle and also the gut-wrenching loss of a beloved one who died fighting in wars both past and present. The first of these honored the veterans of the war in Korea…the Forgotten War…for many Americans presently. Gary Sinese and Dennis Haysbert portrayed two soldiers who had been caught in the furious and surprising assault by Chinese forces who poured into Korea across the Yalu River in November 1950. This particular American unit had fought its way far north into North Korea as all other units had at that time and when the Chinese forces poured in by the uncountable thousands, the UN forces were totally unprepared for such an assault. Sinese acted the role of a white American soldier and Haysbert played the role of Charles Johnson, a black soldier. The white soldier was seriously wounded as were several others in the unit who were overwhelmed by the Chinese; Charles Johnson alone stood to defend his wounded comrades and while wounded himself, he successfully held off the continued assault. Then when the American units tried to move out to get to a US Marine base south of the area, they were caught in another Chinese ambush and Charles Johnson was killed defending his buddies. How the others made it out and lived to tell about it is almost too unbelievable to comprehend but the white man named Don was one of them….and he was present last night along with a commanding officer from the unit named Hooker. Charles Johnson’s family members were also there and as the story was related by the two actors, tears poured down the faces of those who remembered so well that story from the Forgotten War. After the performance both Gary Sinese and Dennis Haysbert came out to the families and exchanged embraces and greetings with those of the men who had fought in that horrible battle. Korean War veterans were especially honored in last nights concert since it is the 50th annniversary of the beginning of the Korean War which started in June of 1950. I was a 12 year old and fully understood, as I had not understood during the end of WW 2, what it meant for our military forces to have to go to war. The Korean War was part of our daily life and I was horrified by it.
The other performance by actors was the one given by Blythe Danner, playing the role of a Vietnam War widow and Katherine Jenkins playing the role of a very recent young widow of the war in Iraq. The two spoke of the terrible grief of the women who lose their husbands in wartime. It was hard to hear the woman who portrayed the young recent widow describe her grief and hopeless feelings about her loss. The older widow of the Vietnam War had communicated through a war widows group with the young widow and the dialogue of the two actresses was very touching and also comforting…to know that other war widows of past wars are now helping the most recent ones deal with their overwhelming grief. The two actresses also went out to greet the families of those they had portrayed. Both women….the Vietnam War widow and the young widow were there together with many other widows at the Concert and it was moving to see how much they clung to each other in support and love and comfort.
Those two portrayals at the Concert were worth everything else….the wonderful musical perfomances and the always-anticipated Tribute to the Miliary Branches when the orchestra plays the songs of the Coast Guard, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines and the Army and all those who have served in those branches stand when their song is played. That is done at the 4th of July Concert also and I am always moved by the sight of the Veterans of all ages standing together to be acknowledged. Many of those Veterans shed tears and sing along with the choruses and the orchestra at that moment.
I wish the Memorial Day Concert would be re-aired and it probably is going to be done today sometime. If you have not seen it try to catch the re-play. It is completely wonderful and satisfying for a patriotic soul who loves their nation so much.
There is a 9 p.m. special on Channel 13 tonight about the many foreign cemeteries from past wars where so many thousands of American military men and women are buried with the distinctive white stone crosses at each grave. Those of the Jewish men and women are also marked with the Star of David. I plan to watch this special also.