Past Stories - National Memorial Day Concert - PBS
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D-Day: The 75TH Anniversary

On one of the most pivotal days of World War II, June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched the greatest combination of sea, land and air power in history. It was D-Day on the coast of Normandy, and five thousand died on the beaches, most in the first few hours. Among those in the first wave was SGT Ray Lambert. As a medic in the 1st Infantry Division, SGT Lambert participated in some of the fiercest battles of World War II from North Africa to Sicily and he had already been awarded two Silver Stars for bravery and three Purple Hearts.

SGT Ray Lambert’s story of bravery was shared on the 2019 National Memorial Day Concert, along with a tribute to heroes who sacrificed and died in service to our nation and the world.

Vietnam: Valor and Brotherhood

In the 50 years since the height of the Vietnam War the painful memories from their service remain fresh for many of its veterans. Right after the war, when Vietnam vets returned home, they didn’t get the reception that veterans of previous wars received. Instead of parades, they were often met with derision. Because of this, they banded together, forming support groups and communities to care for each other.

Ernest “Pete” Peterson and Brad Kennedy served together in the 11th U.S. Cavalry. Though they came from different backgrounds, they found common ground in Vietnam. Many years later, Pete and Brad found themselves again side-by-side, this time at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, where they reunite each Memorial Day and Veterans Day to honor their buddies.

The 2019 National Memorial Day Concert shared the story of Pete and Ernest’s enduring bond and paid tribute to Vietnam combat veterans.

A Gold Star Widow’s Journey

SFC Collin Bowen was weeks away from returning home to his wife, Ursula, and their 3-year-old daughter, Gabriela, when he volunteered for one last mission because he knew the terrain so much better. Before he left, he charged up his phone and told his wife that every day he would call so she would know he was okay; but on January 1, 2008, Ursula didn’t hear from him. Instead, she received the devastating news that Collin was severely injured and burned in an IED attack. After 15 surgeries and over 2 months in the hospital, Collin died of his injuries on March 14, 2008. With friends and a community helping her through the hardest time in her life, Ursula was able to parent Gabriela and begin to move forward.

The 2019 National Memorial Day Concert shared Gold Star widow Ursula Palmer’s journey from grief to healing and her resolve to find purpose in helping wounded warriors and other families who’ve lost a loved one in service to our nation.


Korean War: The Bonds of Service

On June 25, 1950, the army of North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union, launched a full-scale attack against South Korea. American and UN forces were thrust unprepared into the harshest battle conditions in an unforgiving land. Among those American soldiers captured by the Chinese were best friends Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura and Joe Annello. During the attack, Hiroshi heroically fought against the Chinese forces, allowing for his squad to safely withdraw as he and Joe were taken prisoner.

Joe and Hiroshi’s friendship, endurance and heroism was shared on the 2018 National Memorial Day Concert.

Vietnam: Remembering Khe Sanh

In January 1968, fifty years ago, a truce was called in the middle of the Vietnam War in honor of the Lunar New Year, or Tet. In spite of the agreement, the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong troops launched a surprise, full-scale offensive on cities across South Vietnam. One of these targets was the remote Marine base at Khe Sanh in the Quảng Trị Province. 40,000 enemy troops faced only 2,500 Marines.

Among those fighting were the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, also referred to as “The Walking Dead” battalion due to having the highest casualty rate in Marine Corps history. Of the nearly 3,000 Marines who served with the 1/9 in Vietnam, over 25% would be Killed in Action. One young squad leader, Sergeant Bill Rider, survived, but the memories of those he lost in Khe Sanh have haunted him for fifty years.

Bill Riders‘ journey to heal himself and others was shared on the 2018 National Memorial Day Concert.

Women in Service

On June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the historic Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. In the 70 years since, more than 2 million women have served in our armed forces.

As a child, Leigh Ann Hester’s father took her to see a military parade where she watched service men and women march in uniform. As they moved in sharp formation, Leigh Ann knew she wanted to be one of them one day— she longed to serve her country. In April 2001, at the age of 21, her childhood dream became reality when she joined the National Guard. Hester enlisted as a Military Police Officer, because in 2001, it was one of the few positions where a woman could get out into the field. On March 20, 2005, SFC Hester led a Humvee providing protection for 30 semi-tractor trailers outside of Bagdad. Suddenly, they were ambushed by gunfire, over 50 insurgents were attacking from all sides. Leigh Ann and a fellow squad leader, SSG Timothy Nein, ran straight into the gunfire with no cover to fire back.

This story of bravery was shared on the 2018 National Memorial Day Concert.