Fifty years ago this summer, it was finally over, over there, both in Europe, where the Nazis gave up in early May, and in the Pacific, where Japan surrendered in August. Rod Steiger was on ships at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Charles Durning was recovering from injuries he sustained on D-Day on Omaha Beach, in the Battle of the Bulge and in the Ruhr Valley. Ossie Davis served as an Army medic in Liberia. At home, a little boy named Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. missed his father, an American pilot flying missions in the Pacific theater. That boy -- now known as singer John Denver -- and the three actors who served during World War II join actors George Clooney ("ER") and John Cullum ("Northern Exposure") and singer Marilyn McCoo, the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Erich Kunzel, and an array of the nation's top military brass for the 15th annual National Memorial Day Concert Sunday at 7:30 on the west lawn of the Capitol. The 90-minute concert will air live on PBS stations as well as National Public Radio and the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network. Although this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, this concert will concentrate on the end of World War II. Executive producer Jerry Colbert has been responsible for entertaining the throngs of people gathered near the Capitol, as well as TV viewers, since the first televised Fourth of July concert in 1979. He added Memorial Day concerts in 1990. The programs are PBS's highest-rated performance specials. Last year, for the first time, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff joined its chairman, Gen. John Shalikashvili, and his predecessor, Gen. Colin Powell, to appear on stage at the concert. They are scheduled to show up Sunday, as well as the Army Herald Trumpets, the Army Chorus, the Navy Sea Chanters, the Army Chorale and the Armed Forces Color Guard and the Chevy Chase Elementary School Chorus. Davis will host the program, which includes memorial tributes and readings by Powell, Steiger, Durning and Clooney, and musical selections by Denver, Tony Award-winner Cullum and Grammy-winner McCoo of The 5th Dimension. Among the offerings: songs from "South Pacific," "The Hallelujah Chorus," "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Steiger, now 70 and the father of a 2-year-old son, was not yet out of high school when he enlisted in the Navy. His four years in uniform included service on the USS Taussig, a destroyer. "We were offshore throwing shells at Mount Suribachi," he recalled. "And we also took some Marines there. I'll never forget it. One of the things that people don't know very much is that the Marines landed but -- and I don't know why -- nobody had found out what the terrain was like. It was a volcanic ash, and the ash got into their rifles, and so they were grabbing the rifles of the dead Japanese. And they couldn't dig foxholes. "The Marines advanced so fast that by the time the communications got back to the big ships, we had killed some of our own men. I learned one of the cruelest lessons of the war: I learned the phrase, They were expendable.' "I still remember the faces of some of the guys that were taken off {the islands}. They went through something, I'll tell you. "I was lucky. I was there doing my part, but the Marines were kind of angry. . . because they thought we had an easy job." An Oscar-winner for "In the Heat of the Night," Steiger will read an eyewitness letter written by a young lieutenant, underscored by the Second Movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Steiger said his poker partner, Charles Durning, interested him in participating in the Concert. Durning, who holds three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, took part last year and is scheduled to read a memorial tribute to those who died during World War II. John Denver was only 2 years old when the war ended and his father came home. Unlike thousands of other Americans who left the armed services to resume civilian life, Denver's father remained in uniform to become one of the first officers of the United States Air Force and retired as a lieutenant colonel. Denver, born in Oklahoma, recalls his family's moves: to Japan, where his younger brother was born; and to Arizona, Alabama and Texas. He went to college at Texas Tech. Changing homes wasn't easy for a shy child, Denver recalled. "I started junior high in Alabama not knowing a single person," he said. "No one talked to me. I was in a chorus class in the ninth grade. It turned out that was where they put all the troublemakers because they didn't want to put them in study hall with nothing to do. "The teacher asked me to bring my guitar to class one day, and I did, and I asked if I could sing some of the songs I'd been trying to write, and all of a sudden people started talking to me. That was the beginning." For a while, Denver hoped to follow his father into the Air Force, which had built its new academy outside Colorado Springs in 1958. But his poor vision precluded his being a pilot. Instead, Denver went on to become lead singer for the Chad Mitchell Trio and, later, a top recording artist in his own right. Among his tributes are the Albert Schweitzer Music Award, given him in 1993 "for a life's work dedicated to music and devoted to humanity." He was the first non-classical artist to be so honored. Two of his compositions, the nostalgic "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" -- the first number-one hit of Peter, Paul and Mary -- became loosely associated with the war in Vietnam. Today, Denver is an enthusiastic environmentalist and advocate for international peace. He lives in Aspen, Colo., not far from the Air Force Academy and his namesake city. "I have a very, very high regard for people in the service," he said. "I suppose to a degree it's connected to other things. There was all the pride of seeing your dad in uniform. But every year he had to go on a tour of duty overseas, for 30 to 60 days. So what went on for my mom during the times when he was gone, the things I felt in his absence, the kinship I feel to service brats all over the world, and what we honor on Memorial Day means an enormous amount to me, as we move hopefully to a world without war." In early May, when many news reports concentrated on the 50th anniversary of VE Day, Denver said he was "moved by the things I saw on television. For the first time, I heard some very prominent statements about the sacrifice of the Russian people. In the city of Leningrad alone, they lost more people than the United States lost." On a 1984 trip, Denver visited the war memorial cemetery in Leningrad. Last May, he became the first western singer to perform in Hanoi and the first in Vietnam since the war ended in 1975. Out of those visits came "Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?)," focusing on brotherhood and part of his "One World" album for RCA in 1986. Denver has been a member of the Presidential Commission on World and Domestic Hunger, was one of the five founders of the Hunger Project, and in 1976 established the Windstar Foundation, a not-for-profit research and education center. Among its projects is Plant-It 2000, a campaign to plant a million trees in this country before the year 2000. He said the project also hopes to plant bamboo in China. His new two-hour special, "John Denver: The Wildlife Concert," will air Sunday, June 18, on A&E cable network. The concert is a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Wildlife Conservation Society, on whose board of advisors Denver serves. A two-CD set and a concert video will be released by Sony. CAPTION: U.S. troops plant the Stars and Stripes on Guam on July 20, 1944. In May 1945, 50 years ago, World War II was declared over in Europe. CAPTION: John Denver: his father was a World War II pilot. CAPTION: Singer Marilyn McCoo, host Ossie Davis and Oscar-winning actor Rod Steiger are part of the 15th annual National Memorial Day Concert.