Actor Joe Mantegna, star of the hit CBS television series “Criminal Minds” and many popular films, began to view Memorial Day in a whole new way 13 years ago.

That’s when he was asked by actor Charles Durning, a highly decorated World War II veteran, to co-host the PBS National Memorial Day Concert, which is in its 25th year.

“Doing that concert changed my life and my feelings about Memorial Day,” he said in a WND radio interview.

“It went from being a three-day holiday where you go watch the Indianapolis 500 and have a barbeque,” he said, “to the most important holiday that I think we have in this country, because it allows us to have all the other holidays that we have.”

Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise, hosts of the PBS National Memorial Day Concert

The concert, with a star-studded lineup of performers and guests, will be aired live Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern Time from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building.

Mantegna, a Tony Award winner, will co-host with Emmy Award-winning actor Gary Sinise.

Mantegna, who also is a producer, writer, director and voice actor, is best known for his roles in the movies “Three Amigos,” “The Godfather Part III,” “Forget Paris” and Up Close & Personal.”

Mantegna told WND he has a personal connection to veterans, as all five of his uncles fought in World War II. But they all returned home, he said, and Memorial Day didn’t have such a profound impact on him until he began co-hosting the concert.

“I think anyone who carves out 90 minutes this weekend and watches the program will come away with that same feeling,” he said. “They’ll get it, because this show really spotlights and profiles what Memorial Day is about … and does it in a majestic kind of emotional and even an entertaining kind of way.”

WND asked Mantegna how he sees the current scandal over health care for veterans.

“This is not a political kind of a thing,” he said. “This is the men and women who have sacrificed their limbs and their lives to allow us to live in this country.”

Sunday’s program will feature highlights of the past 25 years of Memorial Day concerts and a special tribute to veterans of D-Day, on the 70th anniversary.

“Whether you watch our concert or not,” Mantegna said, “take a moment to realize who we have to thank for the fact that we have this holiday weekend, and all the holiday weekends that we have, and that we are able to live in this great country that we do.”

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