[Editor’s Note: With all of the pageantry and celebration of last weekend’s Military Appreciation Weekend, there was one story that I held onto for a moment for when it could really be appreciated. I hope you enjoy.]
At halftime of last Sunday’s game against the Patriots, three officers of the Maryland department of the Military Order of the Purple Heart bestowed two injured veterans with the Purple Heart award.
One of those men was Chaplain Cornell R. Ford, injured in Vietnam, and lifelong Redskins fan. Underneath his Purple Heart uniform and purple tie, he was wearing his favorite Redskins T-shirt, a memorial to his favorite player, No. 21 Sean Taylor.
“You may not remember him,” he said, “But this was a young man by the name of Sean Taylor, who played safety for the Redskins. This is the shirt that I wear every week when I watch the games, and I knew I had to wear it under my uniform this week.”
Of course, I do remember No. 21, and all that he meant to this team and franchise. He also meant a great deal to fans like Mr. Ford, who couldn’t imagine a Redskins game without it.
“You wanna know something?” he said. “I also painted my truck in Redskins colors. It’s a 1987 Toyota 4Runner, and I painted it Burgundy and Gold, and it has Redskins emblems all over it.”
It’s pretty fitting that the truck is from a Super Bowl year, and a game that was one of Mr. Ford’s favorite as a fan.
“This afternoon, I parked it over at the Landover Mall, but I get so much praise about the truck–even from the Dallas fans,” he said with a smile. “They’ll give me a thumbs down for the team, but a thumbs up for the truck.”
It was really a pleasure to sit and chat with Mr. Ford, and his companions, Commander Charles J. Eggleston, and Jr. Vice Commander James Smith, during part of the third quarter of the game.
Mr. Ford and Jr. Vice Smith were injured during their tours of duty in the Vietnam War. Commander Eggleston was injured in each of 2003, 2004, and 2005 in the Middle East. They know what it’s like to return from war with life-changing injuries.
“An event like today brings to light another side that you never see, because not all fans out there have a loved one that have been in the military, or injured in war,” said Commander Eggleston. “It shows that facet, and it shows that we appreciate a job well done. It shows that these guys are truly national heroes.”
Mr. Ford added, “It’s something special, especially for the young guys. When we see them, we see us.”
According to Commander Eggleston, the objectives of the Purple Heart organization are to provide support and resources against homelessness, PTSD and suicide. On Sunday, however, their role was to honor those that were injured in combat.
The trio couldn’t imagine a better forum than football to honor these returning local heroes.
“It’s a great forum to have it in, because it shows that the Redskins organization as whole, cares for the general public, and cares for the military,” Commander Eggleston explained. “Me and Jr. Vice met the Graham Gano, and come to find out his whole family is Marines. He was one step away from becoming a Marine, himself.
“It means a lot to those guys that feel like they’re just the forgotten souls returning from war,” he continued.
Jr. Vice Smith pointed out that when the young men returned from Vietnam, the country wasn’t ready to thank them for their service. He said that he was pleased with how organizations like the Purple Heart help to ensure that the soldiers returning from conflict are given the appreciation and respect they deserve.
It was a great moment with great men, and it certainly put heroism into perspective for the second half of football.