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CORTEZ: Hispanic Heritage Month and How Far We Have Come

- October 12, 2023

What a difference a day makes for a proud American during Hispanic Heritage Month standing before Lieutenant Governor Winsome-Earle Sears in her Richmond office as State Senator Bryce Reeves read a state proclamation reflecting on my life and achievements relative to veterans and media.

Sponsored by Democratic Delegate Paul Krizek representing the 44th Dist. and Republican Reeves of the 17th State Senate District, Sears spoke as both lieutenant governor and the President of the Senate presenting the joint General Assembly proclamation.

Cited for creating the National Vet Court Alliance Inc. to help rehabilitate those in the Commonwealth’s Veteran Treatment Dockets, and being appointed as one of 17 citizens nationally, as part of the President’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity from 2020-2021 was humbling.  It was an emotive ceremony with contentious reflection hearing the word “WHEREAS” 16 times including heroic and meritorious actions during my Marine Corps service.

While proud, how could there not be emotional confliction as Reeves read the proclamation of memories such as assassination attempts on my life occurring in Vietnam and Virginia as well as racist actions and advances?

Being lauded for being wounded and decorated for extraordinary heroism during the Vietnam war is one thing.  However, I’m sure the Lieutenant Governor was unaware of the enemy at times being on both sides.  This occurred by less than stellar Marines serving towards the end of the war. They were part of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s greatest failures in drafting 100,000 individuals a year composed of the military’s lowest mental category, CAP IVs and Vs determined by Armed Forces Qualification tests.

Those in Category V indicated a cognitive disability. Nevertheless they were allowed to serve with many unaffectionately referred to as McNamara’s Morons.

Some were in my unit in 1970 and practiced sandbagging missions to avoid combat if possible in the poorly supervised Combined Action Platoon I was initially assigned to.  One placed a pistol to my head as others placed a camouflaged poncho over me one evening threatening execution if I did not go along to get along.  Fortunately, the unit was shortly disbanded, and I was transferred to a division combat unit who had their own problems of officers being fragged by malcontents.

While Vietnam was a tragic experience for many, the U.S. Marine Corps for the most part was made up of conscientious individuals such as then-Corporal Winsome Earle who was destined to become Virginia’s first former Marine Lt. Governor.

She also can attest to the rough and tumble nature of the Corps and the Virginia political realm.

The proclamation reading evoked another memory in 1992 demonstrating the viciousness of the political.  There in Stafford not 200 yards from the courthouse; in a structure I had purchased from the county called The Blue House, my wife and I witnessed a life size figure representing me hung with a noose in effigy with a vicious racist message pinned to its chest.

Under the cover of darkness officials reclaimed and removed the small structure with the noosed “body”. Officials to this day deny knowledge of the racial hate crime, that “did” occur. My wife and I would willingly take a polygraph to verify these facts.  What can’t be denied are the actions in 2017 of then Stafford Board of Supervisor Chairman Paul Milde who refused to recognize Hispanic Heritage month as required by law.  Adding insult to injury after outraged citizens complained, Milde refused to apologize during the next meeting and sat silently while then Vice Chair Supervisor Meg Bohmke responsibly made the apology and read the prepared Hispanic Heritage month proclamation.

While Republicans have that cross to bear this election season, Democrats must own the memory of the public’s racist outrage of then Governor Ralph Northam’s offensive black face photos in his 1984 medical school yearbook.  That painful recollection occurred in 2019 watching Northam first acknowledge and accept responsibility and apologizing, while shortly afterwards conveniently denying it.

Then there’s Northam’s public backlash over endorsing a late-term abortion bill opponents called infanticide.

Tragically such racial and civil outrages and perhaps the positive actions of the general assembly and the Lieutenant Governor are part of the almighty’s divine providence to insure political rectitude.

In my 72 years of life, I have observed and been part of some horrific and some remarkable actions. Aside from enduring war, I joined a nation in morning over the assassination of a president and like others beamed with pride watching an American walk on the moon.  I’ve lived to see our nation directly attacked as terrorist killed approximately 3,000 individuals with more than 6,000 injured during the 9/11 nightmare as jets roared over my vehicle heading home on I-95. Like others, we witnessed national resolve as the key perpetrators were brought to justice.  We also witnessed the election of Doug Wilder the first Black Governor of Virginia, Jennifer McClellan the first Black woman elected to congress in the 4th Dist., Jason Miyares, the first Hispanic Attorney General and Pam Yeoung the first Black woman to be elected board chair in Stafford County.

And one would be remiss not to mention observing and influencing the election of Governor Glenn Youngkin, a remarkable businessman with no political experience and his slate during the last gubernatorial election with a focus on more parental rights regarding education and promoting law enforcement.

Therefore, in spite of life’s positives and negatives, being lauded by the state remains therapeutic indeed this Hispanic History month.

DANIEL P. CORTEZ of Stafford County is a presidential appointee, political writer and broadcaster who serves as the volunteer co-chairman of the Latinos for Youngkin Coalition.

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