Gary Sinise returns to host National Memorial Day Concert, reflecting on Lt. Dan in ‘Forrest Gump’

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Celebrity Grand Marshall Gary Sinise stands with children from the Snowball Express program during the 2018 National Memorial Day Parade in D.C. on Monday, May 28, 2018. (Monique Blyther/WTOP)
WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Gary Sinise (Part 1)

He earned an Oscar nomination for his role as wounded veteran Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump” (1994).

This Sunday night, Gary Sinise returns to D.C. to host the annual National Memorial Day Concert, which airs live from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol starting at 8 p.m. on PBS and the American Forces Network.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who have sacrificed for us,” Sinise told WTOP.

“Memorial Day is a special day that the country sets aside to honor those sacrifices that have kept us free. It’s just become a great tradition for me to go and be a part of it and I’m privileged to have been asked all those years ago to come and do it, and once I did it, it just became something I wanted to do every single year.”

This year’s star-studded lineup of performers also includes Joe Mantegna, Mary McCormack, Jo Dee Messina, Yolanda Adams, Trace Adkins, John Slattery, The War and Treaty, Phillip Phillips, Megan Hilty, S. Epatha Merkerson, Dulé Hill, Chosen Jacobs and Jack Everly conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

You’ll also see The Military District of Washington, The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The U.S. Army Chorus, The U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters, The U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants and The U.S. Soldiers Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band.

As always, the ceremony will pay tribute to Gold Star families of fallen soldiers, including Sgt. Anthony O. Magee, who served two tours in Iraq, as well as P.O.W.s like Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris, who was imprisoned by the North Vietnamese for eight years. This year will also mark 50 years since the end of the Vietnam War in 1973.

“We have a segment that honors our Vietnam veterans with a special tribute to our P.O.W.s,” Sinise said.

“We will have several P.O.W.s from the Vietnam era on the show with us, so we’re paying tribute and honoring them and their fellow P.O.W.s. It’s also the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, so we have a special segment on that. We always do something special for World War II, so each year it’s a very powerful show, a moving show, uplifting.”

Sinise is a fitting host as his character Lt. Dan lost both of his legs during the Vietnam War in “Forrest Gump.”

“I have Vietnam veterans in my family, my wife’s two brothers served in Vietnam and her sister’s husband was a combat medic in Vietnam, so I have great respect for them,” Sinise said.

“It was an honor to play Lt. Dan in ‘Forrest Gump.’ He’s obviously a disabled veteran, and at the Gary Sinise Foundation we’re constantly serving the needs of the men and women who make these sacrifices for us.”

Next year marks the 30th anniversary of “Gump,” one of the last top-grossers to win the Oscar for Best Picture.

“It’s amazing how that movie resonated with people and how the next generation or two have seen the film because it was so popular back when their parents were younger,” Sinise said.

“It really resonated with a lot of people. It was an entertaining way to look at American history, obviously a bit fantasized through the eyes of Forrest Gump, but my connection to the movie in playing Lt. Dan represented an entire generation of veterans.”

His Lt. Dan Band will also be playing a free Vietnam tribute concert at DAR Constitution Hall on Friday night.

“It’s going to be a busy weekend for me,” Sinise said. “Obviously the Memorial Day concert is the big event that draws me to D.C. every year, but I’m coming in a little bit early so we can do a couple of extra special things.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Gary Sinise (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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