"Freedom isn't free; the price is high," Gen. Henry H. Shelton told a national television audience and a massive crowd on the West Lawn of the Capitol last night. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flanked by the other chiefs and former chairman Colin Powell, spoke at a climactic moment of the National Symphony Orchestra's annual Memorial Day Concert, just before the audience joined in a sing-along performance of "God Bless America." His brief, impassioned address drove home, without exactly stating it, one of the subtexts of the evening: that the United States is at war and we must expect casualties.

Nobody directly stated the other subtext, either, but it emerged with particular clarity in the program's segment dealing with World War II: that Slobodan Milosevic is, in his own smaller way, a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. Powell asserted that members of the American armed forces have died in this century "not just for American freedom" but to secure freedom and "to end the suffering of innocent persons" around the world.

Music, visuals and patriotic propaganda were deftly blended in a tribute, sometimes comic and often deeply moving, to the many thousands who have fought and died in America's wars. It was the 20th annual Memorial Day concert of the NSO on the West Lawn, the 10th to be nationally televised. Ossie Davis once again served with distinction as master of ceremonies and Erich Kunzel conducted.

One highlight was the tribute to those who served in Vietnam, including newsreel footage of military action and the reading of three letters, selected from the thousands that have been left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

World War II got the most elaborate treatment. Visuals of the naval war in the South Pacific were shown, with music from Richard Rodgers's "Victory at Sea" and a voice-over narration that emphasized how long it took for America to begin winning and how massive and inexorable the American war machine became once it got into action. This segment featured a lengthy treatment of the bombing of the aircraft carrier Benjamin Franklin, which survived heavy damage and the loss of 700 lives, and a tribute to the Rev. Joseph Callahan, the Franklin's chaplain and the first military chaplain to be awarded the Medal of Honor. For entertainment and contrast, Rita Moreno was featured in a high-energy production number, with a dance troupe in 1940s garb doing dances of the World War II era. Moreno not only sang (in flawless style and with intense expression) such classics as "White Cliffs of Dover" and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair"; she joined in a jitterbug frenzy while the NSO played "In the Mood" and caressed several fortunate but militarily deadpan members of the Army Chorus while she sang "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy."