Mantegna, Sinese Host Holiday Concert

In this photo, supplied by PBS and Capital Concerts, Gary Sinise performs at the 2005 "National Memorial Day Concert" in Washington. Sinise and Joe Mantegna will host Sunday's annual "National Memorial Day Concert," airing on PBS on May 28, 2006.
AP Photo/PBS-Capital Concerts
When Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise host Sunday's annual "National Memorial Day Concert" in Washington, they'll have special guests on hand: relatives who served in World War II.

"I'm going to be bringing my uncle, Jack, this year," Sinise said, referring to 83-year-old Jack Sinise, who flew 30 missions over Germany as a B-17 navigator.

Mantegna's guest of honor is his uncle, William Novelli, also 83, who was part of Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army and is among several WWII veterans in Mantegna's family.

They are just two of the many men and women whose military service deserves the nation's attention and thanks, the actors said.

Memorial Day, Mantegna said, "very easily becomes one of those holidays that you put in your head as, 'Oh, what are we going to do Memorial Day weekend? We're going to have a barbecue, maybe watch the Indianapolis 500 ...' "

"Or the ball game," interjected Sinise.

"Unless there's some immediate relative that draws your attention to the meaning of the holiday it's very easy to forget," Mantegna said. "I would hope that people come away from the concert thinking, 'Wow, so this is what the holiday is about.' "

This year's program, airing 8-9:30 p.m. EDT on PBS (check local listings), will focus on Air Force pilots as the military branch marks its 60th anniversary, and on those in the National Guard, including four Louisiana National Guard soldiers killed in Iraq.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was established in the 19th century to honor those killed in the Civil War but later grew to encompass all who died in combat. It is officially observed on the last Monday in May.

The concert, held on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol and in its 17th year, typically draws a crowd of 300,000 and is watched by as many as 10 million viewers on public television stations, making it one of PBS' highest-rated performance shows each year.

The program also is carried by National Public Radio and in more than 135 countries on American Forces Radio and Television Network.

Sunday's performers will include country singers Lee Ann Womack and the duo Big & Rich; actors Charles Durning and Dianne Wiest; opera singer Frederica von Stade; Daniel Rodriguez, the singing ex-New York police officer, and Erich Kunzel and the National Symphony Orchestra.