Joe Mantegna returns for his 15th time as host of the National Memorial Day Concert, a night of remembrance dedicated to our men and women in uniform, their families at home and all those who have given their lives for our country.
The 69-year-old "Criminal Minds" star initially served as host of the event at the first concert post 9/11 and the experience made such a profound impact on him, the holiday took on a different meaning.
"You see the veterans there, the wounded, and you hear the stories," he told Fox News. "Now I think it’s the most important holiday because it’s the one that lets us have the other holidays. In other words, had it not been for what our military’s done since the Revolutionary War, we wouldn’t have the ability to celebrate anything any time like we do."
Mantegna has several family members that have served in the military.
"I have one uncle that I brought [to the event for] many years," he said. "He passed away a couple of years ago at age 92. He was a World War II vet, as were his three brothers. Bringing them to this personalized it. They would start opening up and tell me stories."
This year's all-star line-up includes General Colin L. Powell USA (Ret.), Renée Fleming, Vanessa Williams, Scotty McCreery, John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, John Ortiz, Christopher Jackson, Ana Ortiz, Ronan Tynan, and Russell Watson, as well as the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of top pops conductor Jack Everly.
Plus, "Moana" star Auli’i Cravalho will open the show with a special performance of the “National Anthem.”
"You don’t know exactly what it’s going to be until you get to the rehearsal on Saturday, which is the day before, and then I’m always amazed and pleased by how it all comes together," said Mantegna. "Each year’s different."
Joining Mantegna as co-host is "Black-ish" star Laurence Fishburne. The 55-year-old actor is filling in for Gary Sinise, who has co-hosted the concert for the past 11 years. This year, the 62-year-old actor is staying home to await the birth of his first grandchild.
And even though Sinise won't be live in D.C., he will be presenting a filmed tribute to WWII’s legendary Doolittle Raid, the daring bombing mission over Tokyo that changed the course of the war in the Pacific, which marks its 75th anniversary this year.
Mantegna's connection to the military, especially the friends he's made as host of the concert for 15 years — he's also the national spokesman for the Army Museum, which has broken ground and should be completed by 2019 at which time it will become the largest military museum in the world — is the reason that his character David Rossi on "Criminal Minds" is a former Marine.
"Since I personally was involved with the Marine Corps at the time I was cast — I was friends with Lt. General Willie Williams, Lt. General Ronald Coleman, and a few others — I had acquired a very close connection, a respect, and also the fact that my Uncle Jack and my Uncle Sam were Marines, it was very important to me to have some military connection," he said.
In fact, Mantegna's bond to some of the men he's met over the years is so strong, when he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of the two people who spoke on his behalf was General Williams, who has also appeared in a couple of episodes of "Criminal Minds."
In addition to its PBS airing, the concert will be live-streamed online on Facebook Live and available as Video on Demand for a limited time only, May 28 to June 10.