By Retired Gen. Steve Lorenz
U.S. Air Force Academy Endowment
By all measures, it was a typical football game day at Falcon Stadium. Many people were tailgating, there was a slight chill in the air, the sky was a brilliant bright blue, and the crowd was excited as the game time approached. With great precision, the Cadet Wing had marched into the stadium. With great fanfare, the Wings of Blue parachute team had jumped onto the football field, and the flyover by several Air Force aircraft had created much excitement.
As the cadet band began to play our national anthem, the audience around us rose up to show respect for our flag and the music Francis Scott Key wrote 200 years ago. In unison, we placed our right hands over our hearts to show the proper respect as the Star Spangled Banner was played.
As the ceremony began, the entire stadium went silent as they turned to face the American flag and listen to the music. It was then that I heard what initially sounded like a person yelling at the top of his lungs and making loud, incoherent sounds. I did not know what it was, but my initial reaction was one of disbelief and irritation that this person could be so insensitive and disrespectful while an entire stadium full of people were saluting our nation’s flag.
But as I listened closely to this disruptive sound, I began to make out what appeared to be words. I could not understand every word, but every third or fourth word seemed to fit into the melody of our national anthem. Someone, in his own painful way, was singing the Star Spangled Banner.
I looked where the sounds were coming from. In front of me was the ramp reserved for handicapped fans, and there he was. A young man was sitting in a wheelchair, in an Air Force T-shirt, with an Air Force baseball cap perched on his head. He was swaying back and forth to the sounds of the music despite suffering from the obvious physical effects of a serious long term debilitating illness.
As I listened more carefully, I could make out more and more of the words he was singing. This handicapped Air Force Academy football fan had a huge smile on his face as he sang with great gusto our national anthem.
My initial irritation immediately turned to great pride as I watched this young man sing his heart out. Tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to the finest rendition of the Star Spangled Banner I had ever heard. This young man touched my heart and the hearts of everyone around him who really heard what he was singing. I walked up to 31 year old Kenny Frith, who was born with cerebral palsy, and thanked him for reminding me what really is important. I told him I would never forget him or his singing of our national anthem.