When Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise host Sunday's annual National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., they'll have special guests on hand: relatives who served in World War II.
"I'm going to be bringing my Uncle Jack this year," Sinise said, referring to 83-year-old Jack Sinise, who flew 30 missions over Germany as a B-17 navigator.
Mantegna's guest is his uncle, William Novelli, also 83, who was part of Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army and is among several veterans in Mantegna's family.
Memorial Day, Mantegna said, "very easily becomes one of those holidays that you put in your head as, 'Oh, what are we going to do Memorial Day weekend? We're going to have a barbecue, maybe watch the Indianapolis 500 -- ' "
"Or the ballgame," Sinise added.
"Unless there's some immediate relative that draws your attention to the meaning of the holiday it's very easy to forget," Mantegna said. "I would hope that people come away from the concert thinking, 'Wow, so this is what the holiday is about.' "
This year's 90-minute program, airing at 8 p.m. on KCET-TV, will focus on Air Force pilots as the military branch marks its 60th anniversary, and on the National Guard.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was established in the 19th century to honor those killed in the Civil War, but it later grew to encompass all who died in combat. It is officially observed on the last Monday in May.
The concert, held on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol and in its 17th year, typically draws a crowd of 300,000 and is watched by as many as 10 million viewers on public television stations, making it one of PBS' highest-rated performance shows each year.
The program also is carried by National Public Radio and in more than 135 countries on American Forces Radio and Television Service.
Sunday's performers will include country singers Lee Ann Womack and the duo Big & Rich; opera singer Frederica von Stade and Daniel Rodriguez, the singing ex-New York police officer.
Neither Mantegna or "CSI: NY" star Sinise are veterans, but both have been long active in supporting veterans' groups and causes.