The Girl Next Door
Inside Katie Holmes & Tom Cruise's Patriotic Weekend
By Susan Mandel
Tom Cruise with Katie Holmes and son Connor
Katie Holmes had quite the captive audience Sunday night in D.C. In the audience was her No. 1 fan, husband Tom Cruise, as well as the woman she was portraying.
The 20th annual PBS Memorial Day Concert, which paid tribute to the sacrifices of American men and women in uniform, was broadcast live from the West Lawn of the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol Building where it took place.
Holmes, who wore a simple black dress, shared the stage with her Broadway costar Dianne Wiest. Together, they told the story of Staff Sargent Jose Pequeno, of Sugar Hill, N.H., who became permanently disabled while serving in Iraq. Doctors told his mother that at best, he would end up in a vegetative state. Holmes played Pequeno's younger sister Elizabeth, and Wiest his mother Nelly.
"It was touch and go for a long time. But then one day we were in the rehab gym while the physical therapists were stretching him. Maybe it hurt a little bit and all of a sudden he came out with, Mom. We just burst out into tears. According to the doctors this wasnt supposed to happen," Holmes, portraying Elizabeth, said with a hint of emotion.
"Its been three years now. Were still with Jose all day long. We bathe him and dress him, make sure his feeding tube is working properly, drive him to physical therapy," Holmes continued, "Jose is not alone. He is part of the family like he has always been."
The actresses' reading concluded with a live picture of Jose Pequeno, who was watching with his mother and sister. Holmes went over and hugged Elizabeth while Wiest went to embrace Nelly. The actresses also took turns kissing Pequeno on the cheek. It was the emotional highpoint of the evening and garnered a prolonged standing ovation.
Several thousand people attended the event featuring the National Symphony Orchestra. Actors Gary Sinise, of "CSI: New York," and Joe Mategna, of "Criminal Minds," served as co-hosts. Rounding out the show were performances by singer Katharine McPhee, country star Trace Adkins, and opera singer Denyce Graves. Laurence Fishburne gave a dramatic reading and Gen. Colin Powell, seated next to Cruise, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen also spoke.
Holmes joined the other performers on stage at the end of the show as the singers performed one last patriotic tune together, "This is My Country."
Leading up to Monday's performance, Cruise was spotted around Washington, D.C., taking in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with daughter Suri and son Connor Saturday.
The trio had a quick, 30-minute tour of the Wright Brothers gallery. "What an affectionate father he is," an observer tells PEOPLE. "He was very affectionate with Suri and he wanted to know what his children were interested in seeing." Suri, dressed in a "very cute" pink tie-dyed sundress while her doll wore a hot pink dress, was either in dad's arms or holding his hand during the visit. "She was happy and smiling," says the source, adding that Cruise was "very polite to people and greeted them. He was smiling the whole time."
The day's itinerary also included a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Additional Reporting by ARNESA A. HOWELL