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"I loved my father for what he did for me. He never told me about the suffering he and others went through in the European Theatre during his four years of World War II ... In my later years it is time for all of us to find out what we can do to help these men and women who are going to have to cope with their suffering for many years."

Dr. Thomas Pierce
Atlanta, GA

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2005 Features

Ossie Davis: December 1917 - February 2005

For more than 14 years, the “National Memorial Day Concert” on PBS was graced by the eloquent, dignified and compassionate presence of Ossie Davis. This year's concert will honor the legacy of Mr. Davis's work on behalf of America's veterans with a special tribute led by Colin Powell.

“National Memorial Day Concert” Executive Producer Jerry Colbert called Ossie Davis, "a man of dignity, integrity and humility, who served his country in many ways. He was a great actor, director, writer, civil rights activist and a marvelous host -- we will miss him."

Davis's extraordinary life and career took him from rural Georgia, to the trenches of World War II, to success in theatre, television and movies, to the forefront of the civil rights movement. After attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Columbia University in New York City, Davis joined the Army, serving from 1942 to 1945. He spent much of the war in Liberia and West Africa until he was transferred to Special Services, where he wrote and produced several shows.

Davis was one of 1.2 billion black soldiers who made important contributions in World War II. It was, for him, a classic case of seeing what had to be done and doing it. "I believe that the World War II generation was exceptional in that it was able to come together from many disparate points and mount a campaign that ultimately led us to victory," said Davis.

Davis returned to New York City after the war and made his Broadway debut in 1946 in "Jeb". Davis's Broadway credits include roles in "Jamaica" (1957) and "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959). His motion-picture career included roles in "The Joe Louis Story" (1953); "Cotton Comes to Harlem (1969)", which Davis wrote and directed; and "Do The Right Thing" (1989). Davis and his wife, actress Ruby Dee, were active for many years in the American civil rights movement. They were named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame in 1989.

Despite his many activities, Mr. Davis remained committed to hosting the concert each year. At a National Press Club luncheon in 2004, he spoke of his dedication to the National Memorial Concert tradition:

"There's a good many personal reasons why I've made this ongoing commitment. One of the most important for me is the opportunity it affords to reach out to all Americans who have been touched by the pain and sacrifice or war -- either as a soldier, or as someone who has lost a loved one. They have paid the high cost of war. They have done it because they believe in duty and commitment and in serving our country, in serving all of us. And it is now our duty to reach out to them in caring and support."

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