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Americans Prepare for Memorial Day Observance - 2004-05-26


Monday is Memorial Day, when Americans will honor those who served in the military and lost their lives in wartime. A Washington concert Sunday will include some Hollywood veterans, including one who survived D-Day.

It was 60 years ago, June 6, 1944, when Allied troops landed in Normandy in Nazi-occupied France. The actor Charles Durning was one of the soldiers.

He said, ?I was frightened all the time. And my sergeant said, "You scared, son?" And I said, "yes, I am." He said, "That's good. It's good to be scared." He said, "We all are."

Thousands of allied troops were injured or killed in the landing.

Charles Durning recalls the fear that he and the others felt.

?I was frightened to death. I was the second man off my barge and the first and third man got killed,? he said. ?The first guy, the ramp went down and the guy fell. And I tried to leap over this guy and I stumbled. And then, we both slipped under the water. We were supposed to be able to walk, but they didn't bring us in far enough. And I was in 60 feet (18 meters) of water with a 60 pound (27 kilogram) pack on. So I let it all go. You'd go under the water and you'd see the bullets go down past you. But what I was afraid of was that I'd come up and meet a bullet coming my way.?

The invasion, although costly, marked a turning point in the war, and would pave the way for an eventual Allied victory over the Nazis.

The National Memorial Day Concert will be broadcast on public television from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Actors Tom Hanks and Ossie Davis will participate. Mr. Davis, like Mr. Durning, is a World War II veteran.

The National Symphony Orchestra will perform, with guest artists including bluegrass musician Alison Kraus and Union Station with Jerry Douglas, country singer Brad Paisley and violinist Joshua Bell.

The actor Joe Mantegna will appear with Jason Ritter, the young actor who is his costar on the television drama "Joan of Arcadia." Mr. Mantegna will read the words of a U.S. veteran who lost his legs in Vietnam, and his co-star will read the words of a veteran of the Iraq War.

With U.S.-led troops facing insurgents in Iraq and a scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Mr. Mantegna says the concert will send a message.

?Even when things go wrong, like what we're going through now, regardless, we all have to endure it all together collectively,? he said.

This is the 15th year of the concert broadcast, and Mr. Mantegna says his involvement has changed the way he views Memorial Day.

?For me, it gave purpose to Memorial Day. In other words, I think a lot of people think of Memorial Day weekend as, OK, let's go to Vegas, let's have a barbecue, isn't there a car race? And it's changed the focus to the reason we have Memorial Day,? Mr. Mantegna added.

Charles Durning received three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star medal for valor in World War II. He says that for those who survive fierce combat, the horror of war leaves a mark.

?I still wake up once in a while, screaming. It never leaves you, ever. It's there always,? he said.

But he also recalls the heroism of many who died.

?I'd see people who were wounded or dying crawl up in front of us to the barricade with the guy that's still alive and shooting and protecting him from getting hit, with their own bodies. I saw that, and they would just take the shot.?

Joe Mantegna says that heroism will be remembered in this year's national concert from Washington.