The National Memorial Day Concert on May 30 will showcase Veterans and families that span multiple generations. Here’s a preview of some of those stories.

Korean War Veterans

Army Veteran Cleveland Valrey was five years into his career when he combat jumped into Korea. He served with the 2nd Ranger Company (Airborne). The all-Black unit still existed four years after the services integrated.

Army Veteran Cleveland Valrey

Army Veteran Cleveland Valrey

Shortly after a battle with Chinese and North Korean Forces May 20, 1951, on Hill 581, Valrey received wounds from enemy action. He recovered in Japan, and continued serving until 1977.

Valrey said his unit, which sustained casualties during Korea, brings back great memories five decades later.

“We were all young and invincible, full of piss and vinegar,” the Texas native said. “Those were just wonderful days, in our youth. We could do anything. To reflect back then, it brings back some pain and some joy. I reflect back and wonder if they’re doing well, the ones I haven’t spoken to in decades. Those were wonderful days, even though we were in conflict.”

Valrey, a U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame honoree who now lives in Oakland, California, said seeing South Korea thrive today brings him an immense sense of relief – but that people should remember that freedom isn’t free.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” he said. “Regardless of all the other turmoil, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Memorial Day brings that out.”

He also said he’s thankful for the Memorial Day Concert to highlight his Korean War brothers.

“I think it’s about time.”

Gold Star family

In her early 20s, Michele Kozey-Nolet was an emergency medical technician student. A friend of hers was in the National Guard and set her up with another friend. Reluctant at first because of the friend’s sarcasm, she agreed.

The date got off to an auspicious start. After a day at the hairdresser, her date pulled up in a convertible. They drove from their small town in Connecticut to Boston. Along the way, Michele and Joe Phaneuf formed instant chemistry.

“He was so funny,” Michele said. “He had me laughing the entire time.”

The date – Joe – soon met Michelle’s 2-year-old son and formed an instant bond. Joe and Michele would later marry; the couple had two daughters, and settled down as a family. In the late 1990s, Joe left the National Guard. Sept. 11 changed that decision.

“9/11 hit him very hard,” Michele said. They traveled to New York City in the following weeks, witnessing the tragedy, before Joe rejoined the Guard.

The Phaneuf family.

The Phaneuf family.

In 2004, Joe deployed with the 118th Medical Battalion to Iraq. He largely worked inside the wire, something Michele said bothered him. Home for a year, he was preoccupied with wanting to make a difference. Soon after, he volunteered as a communications sergeant with the 102nd Infantry Regiment, deploying to Afghanistan. He served as a driver, spending significant time outside the wire. Joe died Dec. 15, 2006, from injuries when an IED detonated near his Humvee.

“The first couple months, it didn’t seem real,” Michele said. “It was just like a fog. We just went about our day-by-day stuff.”

She said when the unit returned from deployment, reality set in. Others came home. Joe would not. Michele and her three kids were now a family of four.

Honoring the fallen

When Michele received the call that the National Memorial Day Concert wanted to profile the family during a salute to Gold Star families, she was speechless.

“I don’t think there’s a big enough word to describe how honored, flattered and amazed we are that they chose us and chose Joe,” Michele said. “We are just beyond honored. He deserves it.”

Michele initially received an outpouring of support, but with time, it diminished.

“People forget,” she said. “Those closest to you always remember. Memorial Day means a lot to them.”

Michele hopes Americans remember Joe and others for a moment.

“With America as divided as it is, I think Memorial Day is so important,” she said. “I don’t want people to spend the whole day sad. Enjoy your family. Enjoy your friends. Just take one minute, maybe two tops, and say a silent thank you. What they did for us, you can’t say thank you enough.”

Michele will appear with the couple’s child, Jordan, during the concert.

Vietnam War nurses

The concert will also highlight Vietnam War nurses. More than 265,000 women served during the Vietnam War era. The concert pays special tribute to the sacrifice and heroism of the nurses who served in Vietnam. They saved thousands of lives and comforted the dying in their final moments.

Listen to the Borne the Battle episode featuring Army Veteran Diane Carlson Evans. She discussed her decision to become a nurse, time serving in Vietnam as a combat nurse, decision to re-enlist after working in a civilian hospital and her fight for a women’s memorial on the National Mall.

About the concert

The National Memorial Day Concert will air May 30 on PBS, hosted by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna and Emmy Award-winning actor Gary Sinise.

The concert airs from 8-9:30 p.m. ET, as well as to troops serving around the world on the American Forces Network. The concert will also be streaming on Facebook, YouTube, on the web at, and as Video on Demand, May 30 to June 13.

The National Memorial Day Concert will air May 30 on PBS, hosted by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna and Emmy Award-winning actor Gary Sinise.

The National Memorial Day Concert will air May 30 on PBS, hosted by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna and Emmy Award-winning actor Gary Sinise.

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on May. 19, 2021

Estimated reading time is 4.8 min.

Views to date: 290


  1. Brad Mori June 1, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    Am quite upset with schedulers. My wife and I drove over an hour to visit the Wall at Green Hills Cemetery, in Palos Verdes, CA., as my brother is on that memorial. Schedule said 5/27 – 6/1. When we arrived we were shocked to learn the Wall was moved early this morning.
    In the future please abide by your own scheduling as even local news stations reported the memorial would be there through 6/1.
    B Mori

  2. Diana Macias May 21, 2021 at 10:02 pm

    This Memorial Day let us all honor those who served in all wars and never forget why we have our freedom. Never forget our POW’s and MIA’s. On May 11 and May 13, 2021, my family and I participated in Carry The Load which honors and remembers our heroes. My family has served in the U.S. Military during WW l l, Korea, Vietnam, and up to the present. My family and I are proud of our military heroes. Let us all continue to teach our youngsters the true meaning of Memorial Day. LET FREEDOM RING!!!

  3. Beulah Hazel May 20, 2021 at 7:13 am

    My first husband was in the U.S. Military. He passed away in 1998. I had married my second husband in 2000, he was a Canadian military. Since I get nothing from the U.S. military for my second husband, can I collect from my first husband? My second husband passed away in April 2021.
    Thank you
    Beulah Hazel

  4. David l. Johnson May 19, 2021 at 8:59 pm

    Awesome reading thank you,. All gave some, Some gave all. Brothers and sisters I am proud of the job we did, lift up your heads and let them all know! Oo-rah

  5. Michael Harrington May 19, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    “Give me a man who will jump out of an airplane and I’ll show you a man willing to fight All The Way” General James Gavin Leader of the 82nd Airborne in Normandy and Germany. “Jumpin Jim”

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