Update: Photos of Daniel’s performance.
Performing the Star Spangled Banner in front of 80 thousand screaming Redskins fans may be a daunting task for some, but I view it as great therapy. I’ll be singing it Sunday at 1:00 p.m. when the Skins play the Saints with my Air Force son along-side.
The extreme honor is actually a three-fer during the Redskins Military Appreciation Day program.
Not only do I get to display my vocal ability and represent Vietnam veterans, but the embattled team’s name will be validated by two actual Redskins during pre-game ceremonies.
Before anything, my son, Senior Airman Daniel P. Cortez II, stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and I are proud American veterans and humble descendants of the Tolteca Aztec Indian tribe. We are Redskins.
My relationship with the team dates back to Vietnam in 1971. There, news had reached front line troops that Hall of Fame coach George Allen would become the new Redskins coach. It was a badly needed morale boost for those of us of Native American heritage.
The announcement caused a raucous night of prideful celebration. Redskin military men with 2nd Battalion 5th Marines were reinvigorated, and fought with renewed fervor during subsequent enemy engagements.
Perhaps such fervor was also witnessed by Francis Scott Key, the Baltimore lawyer, who during the War of 1812 authored the anthem. Watching the “rockets’ red glare” over Ft. McHenry inspired him to pen the celebrated lyrics.
Preparing to perform the anthem keeps that thought in mind in spite of the range of over an octave. We both share in that relationship of the anthem during conflict. And so do the Redskins as they clash on the field and over their name.
Tragically, divisive politicians out of touch with Native American sentiments besmirch the respected Redskins moniker which courageously identifies my people.
As a teenager, my vocalic musical side was cut short by a sense of duty spurred by four generations of family military service since World War II. During the turbulent Vietnam era, combatants not only battled the Vietcong but also attempts to preserve individual ethnic identity. As time progressed, local Indian custom and recognition, like others in the minority community, became convoluted.
After Vietnam I was befriended by the family of former Governor George Allen, the famous son of the more famous coach, as a citizen adviser on media and minority affairs during his numerous political campaigns. Proudly, I have performed patriotic numbers over the years for various officials and organizations of distinction. But first and foremost, along with brother Bruce Allen, president of the football dynasty, we were Redskins.
And at FedEx Field, honoring the flag and bravery of our military remains a constant. The unfurled stars and stripes waving in the breeze indeed helps veterans, regardless of race, who still struggle.
Recently at Quantico commemorating the Vietnam War’s 50th anniversary, Congressman Rob Wittman’s Vietnam veteran recognition ceremony also contributed to the needed curative. But healing is an ongoing process.
After the event I visited the grave site in New Jersey of Major Cornelius Ram. He died in action on January 10, 1971. We both served in a front line combat unit with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, in the Quam Nam province of Vietnam. I shared difficult memories of Ram, who earlier in his career taught young lieutenants at Quantico, and of his gallantry and leadership, with his oldest daughter Linda and youngest son Michael. Michael has his father’s disciplined poised presence.
I was one of several troops that morning who attempted to escort Ram on his observation mission in the Que Son Mountains of Vietnam, but was waved off by him stating we were needed for more important things. Ram was killed by a booby-trap attempting to medivac wounded Marines. He left a wife and six children and was decorated with the Vietnamese Medal of Honor, three Bronze Stars, and numerous other combat awards. For forty-five years, when the anthem is played, he immediately comes to mind and will again.
Sunday’s Military Appreciation Day, according to Skin’s President Allen, is indeed significant. “These events are designed to honor veterans and demonstrate the genuine appreciation The Redskins have for our nation’s military,” he stated.
Clearly therapeutic for any veteran, ceremonies also carry a poignant reminder for naysayers who arrogantly disparage the Redskins name. In reality the majority of Native Americans acknowledge the title evokes feelings of pride, honor and respect.
At midfield my son will hold the small American flag I carried in Vietnam. Scarred and faded by battle, its red stripes remain emblematic of the sacrifices Indian cultures make toward our national resolve. The anthem is dedicated to fallen heroes like Ram. And the internal healing is immeasurable for many veteran families as we hail to the Redskins singing at the “home of the brave.”
Daniel Cortez, a distinguished Vietnam veteran, political writer and broadcaster, is active in veteran and minority affairs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org