History of The Concert for Heroes (CFH) is the work of an ad hoc committee whose makeup varies from year to year. The concert was originally planned for the summer of 2000. The genesis for the concert was the outstanding concert which opened the 1999 Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention that was held in Riverside. The model for the CFH is the Boston Pops celebration for the Fourth of July. However, because the concert is held in a national cemetery, attention has to be paid to the type of music that might be used and the kind of musical organizations to perform in that setting.
When the first concert was held (2001) the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) advised that it was the first time a symphonic concert had been held in any of our national cemeteries. To this date, the only symphonic concert ever held in any of the 130+ national cemeteries is the CFH. This is another unique feature of Riverside National Cemetery (RNC). It adds to the glory of RNC.
The CFH is designed, in part, to bring people to RNC to see what a magnificent place it is. The CFH is designed to help veterans see the place where they should be buried, because they have earned that right. The CFH aids in getting people to RNC to visit the memorials and thereby have RNC be a living testament to the freedoms and liberties we enjoy.
RNC accepted its first interment on November 11, 1978. That person was S/Sgt Ysmael Villegas, USA. Sgt. Villegas was born and raised in the Casa Blanca section of Riverside. He was decorated with the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for his actions along the Villa Verde Trail on the island of Luzon in the Philippines during WW II. From Sgt. Villegas’ interment to the present RNC’s population is now more than 250,000. It is the second largest of the 130+ national cemeteries based upon number of interments. The largest is Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington @ ~325,000 interred) which has taken ~140 years to its current population. RNC is the busiest of all the national cemeteries. It averages 40 burials per day every burial day of the week. On at least two occasions it reached 80 burials per day. RNC is presently less than one-third developed. When it is fully developed and fully occupied (sometime around 2060) there will be more than 1,500,000 people interred. RNC will dwarf everything else in the system. Even if Arlington takes over the Navy Annex and extends its capacity to ~650,000, Arlington will still pale by comparison to RNC.
Unlike many other national cemeteries, RNC is relatively young. It is already recognized as the standard by which our national cemeteries are being evaluated. In December 2003, the NCA advised that there were approximately 1000 volunteers in service to RNC. This figure represented about 25% of all volunteers in service to all national cemeteries!!! Considering that there are now more than 1000 volunteers involved in the placing and removing of grave-site flags before and after each Memorial Day, it is likely that the number of volunteers in service to RNC exceeds 2000.
With the exception of a few Civil War era national cemeteries, RNC is the only national cemetery that has memorial’s within its bounds that is not a final marker  of some kind at a single location, which is publicly accessible, and owned by the people of the United States!. (A final marker is one which denotes the life of someone who no longer is alive and which marks their last remains or a substitute therefore. For example, Arlington National Cemetery has 1) the Tomb of the Unknowns, 2) the grave of President Kennedy, 3) the Mast of the USS Maine, and 4) the monument to the crew of the Challenger. Each of these is a final marker. Nearby (Arlington National Cemetery) is the Marine Corps Memorial (not a final marker). It lies outside the national cemetery and is a monument to extraordinary events in not simply the history of the Marine The first such memorial is the National Medal of Honor Memorial”. It is the only place in the nation where every recipient of the Medal of Honor is enshrined by name.
The second memorial is the ‘Veterans Memorial’. This is a $600,000 sculpture that was donated to RNC. It depicts a fallen armed forces person underneath a poncho on a 12- foot high black granite plinth. There are no words on the piece. It cannot be determined which service the person was in, nor whether the person was black, white, red, brown or yellow, nor can the person’s religion be determined, or even whether the person was male or female. The memorial depicts the ultimate price for freedom and liberty.
The third is the National POW/MIA Memorial. It and the Medal of Honor Memorial are the only national memorials on the West Coast.
RNC has an approved long range plan . It calls for 12-15 memorials, all within the bounds of the national cemetery. None of these are final markers.
Becuse RNC is relatively young, these memorials can be planned into the growth of RNC without affecting the burial capacity of RNC. No veteran will be denied his/her place in RNC because of a memorial! There are those who say that the men and women interred in our national cemeteries are in their final formation and have gone ‘off duty’. While the first is true, the last is not. Those interred are standing an eternal vigil which can only be met if the living come to RNC periodically to be reminded that “Freedom is not Free”.
The CFH is one more way that this is accomplished. The Concert-Programming, within
In the past the CFH has had a youth Fife and Drum Corps, the UCR Pipe and Drum bands, barbershop quartet and chorus, a youth chorale, a brass ensemble, and a bluegrass group as preconcert live music. The main part of the concert is divided into two sections. The first is designed to be exclusively patriotic and Americana music. The presentation always begins with some sort of fanfare or attention grabbing piece. This is followed by a ‘Welcome’. The purpose of the welcome is to express thanks to all those who have made the concert possible, to thank the attendees for helping to celebrate our freedoms and liberties while at the same time glorify RNC, and finally to set the proper tone for the CFH at RNC. Immediately following the ‘Welcome’ is the National Anthem. The sequence of music then goes through the patriotic or Americana. Generally, the last piece of the first portion of the concert is the Service Medley. Following a break, generally, the first piece is one like Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Not only is this a beautiful piece of music, but it provides a wonderful aid to a presentation by which POWs and MIAs are remembered in a presentation which occurs during the playing of the piece. The second portion of the concert then proceeds through a series of pieces which may range from light musical to movie scores to great/classical works. Whatever the pieces selected, they must in some way express freedom and liberty, be moving, and fitting for both the event (CFH) and the setting (RNC).
Some of the world’s greatest music is performed. These works have included Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica [Greek for Heroes]) and his Fifth Symphony which some have argued is the greatest musical work ever composed as well as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Each concert ends with the playing of John Philip Sousa’s,The Stars and Stripes Forever and a show of fireworks.