Joe Mantegna Talks About Honoring the Troops
By Mike Hess Posted May 28th 2010 01:48PM
This Memorial Day weekend, actors Joe Mantegna (left, above) and Gary Sinise are going to spend the holiday the same way they've spent it for the past four years: Honoring and remembering our country's brave men and women serving in the armed forces with the massive National Memorial Day Concert on PBS (Sunday at 8PM). Mantegna and Sinise are hosting the concert, which will feature huge acts like Lionel Ritchie and Brad Paisley paying tribute to veterans past and present. "The debt we owe to all these men and women, and again it is really our duty as a country to support them one hundred and ten percent," Mantegna tells PopEater about his participation in the event. Read the full interview ... after the jump!
This is the fifth year you and Gary will be hosting the National Memorial Day Concert. Does it still have the same feel that it did the first time you did it? Does it get better?
Well, actually, I have been doing it for nine years, but hosting with Gary five years. I was doing it four years prior to when Gary came. It grows every year for me. The first year was indescribable, to tell you the truth. I didn't know quite what to expect. You know when you stand with three hundred thousand people in front of you and you are looking at the Capitol building and the flag flying ... it transcends everything else. I am not a very political person, so it has nothing to do with politics. This is just about being an American and understanding that there were hundreds of thousands of Americans who sacrificed their lives over the many conflicts we had to fight in the history of our country so that we can have holidays like Memorial Day weekend. And all that came into focus the first year that I did it and it just continues to do that every year. The debt we owe to all these men and women, and again it is really our duty as a country to support them one hundred and ten percent. Because again, this not a political thing. We can debate the politics of when we get in conflicts and things like that ... and we are able to debate those things because we live in a free country. But as the saying goes, "Freedom ain't free," so in order to preserve that freedom, we have to have the standing army of these men and women, who time and time again are called upon and in many instances make the ultimate sacrifice.
So I assume it probably just keeps getting more gratifying every year you do it?
It does! It richens, it deepens, it becomes more ... It's another layer that's added on to that whole part. You know, everyone has different layers in their life, different aspects of their life. Their personal life, their professional life, their family, their this, their that, etc. So Memorial Day and this weekend have a certain significance for me. Each year that I do this adds another little thing in the memory bank as to what this is about.
The major theme of the concert is remembering and honoring the military. Do you think Americans tend to forget about the men in uniform when it's not a holiday?
What I think tends to happen is that if you don't have a certain person ... There was a line going around recently that is funny but true -- well, sad but true: "America's not at war, America is at the mall ... the military is at war." And that often is the case, especially if we are talking about post-World War II. I grew up through the Vietnam conflict and I know what that was like. So in other words, we go through these periods where I think people become aware of what's going on and know we're in conflict, but after a while, especially with this thing we're in now, it's been going on for ten years, so what happens is unless you have a personal involvement, unless you have a loved one, a husband, a daughter, a son, a relative, a friend who's involved in the military or maybe God forbid maimed, injured or killed, it doesn't necessarily have a personal impact on one's life. I tend to think what happens, especially on a holiday like Memorial Day, is a vast number of Americans will go out and have a wonderful weekend, barbecue and watch the Indianapolis 500, and hope that it doesn't rain. Have a great weekend then go back to work on Tuesday and not really spend much time thinking about what the holiday was even about.
Not to be judgmental about it, and, I mean, in a way it's due to the fact partly because we are a country that is not used to being in conflict, at least personal conflict. We don't know what it's like to have bombs being dropped. Of course, there is 9/11, which changed that a bit, but we're not like a lot of these foreign countries that were devastated or demolished and had to be rebuilt because of bombs, warfare and all that. We are a bit isolated that way, and so I think hopefully what this concert does and what it did for me, was it brings into focus that you know what, this stuff does go on. There are families that are impacted by this, and that there are men and women who are going to be. You know, this too shall end, this whole conflict with Iraq and Afghanistan. Then we'll go on, and hopefully there won't be anything like that for a long while ... ideally never, but you know, you try to be realistic about it. There's always something going on. But there are going to be men and women walking around this country who are going to be forever changed. Brain damaged, loss of limbs, paralyzed, blind, whatever it may be that they will carry the rest of their lives. And while we can move on and say, "Oh yeah" ... well just like we did with Vietnam, "Well, that was a war that we did back in the sixties and seventies," but there are people who were, who had to carry the scars of that forever. And that's the thing we can't forget as a nation, we have to ...we have to respect those who punched those tickets for us.
So to answer your question, yeah, I think there's a tendency sometimes to kind of not give it the attention it deserves, but that's why we do this concert.
Switching the subject a little bit ... There's a whole lot of musical star power attached to this year's show: Lionel Ritchie, Brad Paisley and others. Do musicians tend to go out of their way to perform at the show?
I think certainly once they experience it. Like Brad Paisley, this is not the first time he's done it. I know that probably when he did it before, when you're up there and you have three hundred thousand people in front of you, and, like I said, staring at the Capitol building and the flags flying, you'd have to be a stone not to be affected by it. I've seen examples, having done this for nine years now, I've seen examples where entertainers will come in and get up there thinking, well this is another gig they're going to do -- a concert. And then they do it. I've seen it happen in the rehearsal, where all of the sudden they see the honor guard, they'll see the military there and all these men and women, and they'll bring in a lot of wounded to watch rehearsal sometimes or watch the concert on Sunday night. And I will see these performers get real emotional and start to break up. There was one instance, there was one performer and I'm trying to think of his name ... one of the country-Western singers, he basically said to me and a couple of others that he now doubted his worthiness to even to be able to perform. It humbled him to the point where he thought, "Well, who am I to perform for something as honorable as these young men and women, who have made the sacrifice?" And you know, you talk to them and say, "Well that's why you're doing it, this is what you do," and they appreciate that. Of course, they go on and they do it. So when I see someone react like that, I know exactly what they are feeling, and I get it because I got it that first time that I did it. I was like "Oh my God, this transcends just entertaining and performing, this is something else, this is just a much bigger thing than that."
Have you gotten to meet President Obama yet?
You know, I have not. I was here for the Kennedy Center Honors in December because I'm on that committee, and usually at those honors you get an opportunity to meet the president. That didn't happen this year because I think they had a unique something happen in Congress that Sunday that he had to attend. So that kind of negated that.
But I've met most of the other ones over the past 20 years or so. You know, when you come to Washington, it's a part of the territory ... it's a government town. You know, you come to Hollywood and you meet movie stars and TV stars. You go to Washington, you meet politicians. But I hope to meet him at some point, it would be nice.
At the concert, General Colin Powell will be there. He's always there every year, the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be there. I'm actually doing a thing tonight, I host the 'Sons of Italy' convention and Bill Clinton will be one of the people that they are acknowledging, as well as Captain Odierno. So when you are in Washington you can't help it, you rub shoulders with people from all those worlds.
If you did meet President Obama, do you think you would have a couple of subjects you would hit it off about?
Most likely, why I think the Chicago Cubs are still Chicago's team and not the White Sox. I think that would be the primary conversation, since he's known to flip on that White Sox cap at any given moment. And me being a die-hard Cubs fan, but I give him a pass. He wins on that one cause at least the Sox have won a World Series in the last hundred years, so I don't have much of an argument there. But I imagine our first conversation would probably center around baseball. Out of respect to the fact that he was a "southsider," he's a Sox fan. I could have been a Sox fan since I was a "westsider," so could have gone either way.
Your co-host, Gary, famously played a soldier in 'Forrest Gump.' What would be your dream war role in a movie or TV show ... any war, any country, any rank.
My dream war role would be the guy who was in the very last war that ever happened, so in other words ... it's a movie about the guy ... you know kind of like that movie 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.' Robots came down and said, "OK, no more wars or we'll blow your planet up" type of thing. So maybe I would be that soldier.
Because beyond that, there have been some great war movies and all that, but it's like one of those things where you are fascinated by the movie, but when you think about it, the subject matter is pretty grim. So, you know, in the best of all worlds, I'd like to be the last guy in the last war so that people could say, "Oh yeah, they used to do this thing called war when people couldn't settle their conflicts in a civilized, non-violent manor. So they kind of actually had to shoot each other, beat each other up, blow each other up and maim each other. That was how you settled things, as barbaric as it sounds." So you kind of hope that day is somewhere down the line in the future.
Who would be your ultimate musical performance at this concert?
I guess the surviving Beatles would probably do it for me. You know, if we could get Paul McCartney and Ringo up there, it would be kind of sweet! Only because they had such an impact on me. But for the concert, since them being English and with such an American kind of concert, maybe it's ... but maybe that's the point, because that's another thing we are honoring, in fact, this year with the concert. That there are 125,000 graves in foreign countries of Americans. There's twenty-four cemeteries throughout the world -- not in America -- where we have 125,000 buried. So that means there are 125,000 that never came home, they died in places like France, Germany, Belgium and in Italy. And so there is this whole international thing there that we not only defended our own borders, we helped defend the world. We tried to preserve freedom around the world, and that's pretty significant.
Joe Mantegna Snapshots
SANTA MONICA, CA - OCTOBER 18: Joe Mantegna arrives to "The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror" 20th Anniversary party held at the Barker Hangar on October 18, 2009 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joe Mantegna
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