For over 30 years music and reverence has been a monumental event on the lawn of the nation’s capitol every Memorial Day weekend. This year, the tradition continues with more music and tributes honoring our fallen heroes.
On Sunday, May 30th from 8:00-9:30pm EDT, all-star performers such as Gladys Knight, Sara Bareilles, Alan Jackson, The Four Tops, the National Symphony Orchestra (and more!) will join together to pay tribute to all of our heroes who were taken too soon.
Hosted by Joe Montega and Gary Sinise, the night of remembrance will also feature special tributes to the heroic American nurses from the Vietnam War, the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company in the Korean War, the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11, and the story of one courageous Gold Star Family.
These heart-warming tributes and more will air nationwide on PBS and on the Armed Forces Network. Viewers can also watch a live stream and replay of the concert here until June 13th.
This week, our team at The Military Mom Collective had the honor to speak with people intimately involved in this year’s concert.
We spoke with Emmy Award-winning actor Joe Morton (Scandal) who will be portraying scenes in the tribute to the Korean War, and Diane Carlson Evans who was a nurse in the Vietnam War and then lead the fight to have the Women’s Vietnam War Memorial constructed.
Joe Morton grew up as a military kid. His father was an Army Intelligence Officer whose job was to integrate armed forces overseas. At a time when racial segregation was ending but tensions were still high, his family was caught in the middle.
“No one liked that we were there” Morton said. He recalled how his mother would attend all the FRG meetings and try to reconcile with the other wives. But in a climate where the spouse proudly wore the rank of her husband, it was stressful and difficult for his mother to navigate racial prejudice in the spouse circles.
But growing up as a military kid gave him the resilience that he still uses today as an actor. “Actors move around a lot,” Morton mentioned. “[My experience as a military kid] makes it easier to acclimate to change… Actually, a lot of my actor friends are Army brats or Navy brats.”
Morton is an Emmy Award-winning actor for his role on Scandal, and in the National Memorial Day Concert, he will portray scenes of the 2nd Infantry Rangers. Taking on dangerous assignments and serving with distinction and honor, this elite Airborne unit was the Army’s only all-black Ranger Infantry Company.
On the cusp of our military’s integration, these trailblazing heroes changed attitudes, and opened possibilities for all African American men and women in uniform.
When asked how he felt about portraying such an important role, Morton replied, “It is important for African-American men and women to appear at these places, again to be part of history. It’s very easy to be ignorant of or not remember that black men have been a part of the American conflict, whether it be the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or whatnot, throughout our history.” Morton continued to say that is of great importance. He also mentioned that he got to talk to Colin Powell, so that was another highlight for him.
The National Memorial Day Concert will also honor a special Gold Star Family whose loved one made the ultimate sacrifice in the post 9/11 conflicts. When asked what he’d like to say to Gold Star families, Morton replied,
There is no amount of praise to be given to a family to have lost to someone in the military. There just isn’t. I would hope that any celebration on memorial day would fill them with hope and joy and… a sense of history and belonging to something important, … and that none of what [their loved one who was lost] did was in vain.
Diane Carlson Evans
The Vietnam Woman’s Memorial was constructed in 1993 and “was established to honor the women who risked their lives to serve their country (source).” It was Diane Carlson Evans’ dream to honor her sister veterans, and she lead the fight to make it happen.
Diane Carlson Evans joined the Army as a nurse at 22. She was so young, and like the other female nurses and corpsmen around her, she had to learn quickly. The emotional toll of war, injuries, and death were on all of their shoulders. Because of the guerilla tactics of the Vietnam War, “many women were in the midst of the conflict. There was no front, no such thing as ‘safe behind our lines.’ Many were wounded; most spent time in bunkers during attacks. The names of the eight military women who died in Vietnam are listed on the Wall” (source).
“The experiences for the nurses were different than the experiences of the enlisted women I think…I worried about my enlisted women,” Evans recounted. As the head nurse, they would come to her with hardships like how they were assaulted in the field. “What do I do with that??” Evans would ask herself. “I am 22… where do I report that? How do I start? If I report this to a commanding officer, what happens to her?… Now I’m also dealing with her stress. She’s coming into work as my corpsman, and I don’t know what to do with this.” We’ve made great strides since then about the process of reporting sexual assaults, but Evans mentioned we still have a long way to go.
When we asked Evans what other hardships she faced as a woman in the military, she brought up a familiar hardship to all women who have been deployed: where to find feminine hygiene products. When you would normally find feminine supplies at the Post Exchange, Evans recalled how the “tampons were being bought by the troops who loved them to clean their rifles!” Most women were forced to write home and have their families send them feminine supplies.
At this year’s National Memorial Day Concert, the women of Vietnam will be honored as well.
Evans has been partaking in this tradition for nearly 30 years. “I always cry,” she admitted. “That’s what the concert does – it remembers us, it remembers them.” The concert will honor the more than 265,000 women who served during the Vietnam War era and pay special tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of the nurses who served in Vietnam, saving thousands of lives and comforting the dying in their final moments.
Nearly 10 years after the Vietnam War ended, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project was recognized; it was nearly another 10 years until the memorial was dedicated. Evans fought hard alongside her fellow female veterans for the recognition all their sisters in arms.
Ghandi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!” This is one of Evans’ favorite quotes. As she fought for the recognition of all the female veterans of the Vietnam War, all these things happened to her. And what did they win?
We won the kind of honor that the National Memorial Day Concert is giving to all veterans… all of us who have served our nation are worthy of being honored and recognized and remembered.
You can watch the National Memorial Day Concert on Sunday, May 30th at 8/7c on PBS and live streaming here. When you watch, be sure to tag us and #MemDayPBS.
However you choose to spend your Memorial Day weekend, please be safe and remember to give reverence to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.