CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Music has always been instrumental in the life of Ram Chavez, the founder and director of the Corpus Christi Veterans Band.
The group plays at major military and other special events. The most recent was at a POW / MIA ceremony just before the Feeding Our Heroes (veterans) Barbecue.
But there was a time in the early 1960s where Chavez was forced to give up a Tejano music contract deal. He had to drop the microphone and pick up a weapon as he served in Vietnam.
Other Hispanics from south Texas were called to serve, too. Chavez helped many of them fill out their draft cards.
“I was proud to help them (Hispanics), so my whole time that I was in service," Chavez said. "I was always helping write letters or read letters to my fellow Hispanic American veterans."
He was a combat medic attached to the 199th Infantry Brigade.
“When I got there, I was nervous, scared,” said Chavez.
He learned firsthand the true cost of war - even as a minority - that death does not discriminate.
“The only color I've ever seen is red, red blood, and I actually saw it in action," Chavez said. "And we all bleed the same color."
Chavez had to lean on music to help him cope through one of the deadliest battles of Vietnam: the Tet Offensive.
He managed to stay alive after a year on the battlefield. Just when he was supposed to return home on May 5, 1968, he asked to stay with his unit. His replacement, Harvey Cooley, was suddenly killed, so Chavez felt compelled to stay in Vietnam.
It was only hours later that Chavez’s courage would be put to the ultimate test.
A wounded Army Sgt. Pasqual Ramirez was exposed to enemy fire.
Chavez didn’t flinch. He risked his life by running out at least 10 yards ducking intense enemy fire. He treated and pulled Ramirez to safety.
On paper, Chavez was not there on May 7, 1968.
It would take the injury he sustained the day before and a Purple Heart award to show where he was on May 6 to prove his heroics.
It would also take 40 years for him to be properly awarded the Silver Star. It was awarded in Corpus Christi, and Ramirez was right there with him at the ceremony.
In the meantime, Chavez’s music remains a constant. It’s more patriotic these days.
The leader of the band continues to strike up musical numbers mostly to honor those service members who never returned home.