WASHINGTON — It wasn’t the 21-gun salute, a speech, or the pomp and circumstance that made Monday’s Armed Forces Welcome Ceremony memorable, but rather, a musical performance by Army Captain Luis Avila.
At the conclusion of a swearing-in ceremony for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Avila, a wounded veteran, sang “God Bless America.”
He sat in a motorized wheelchair facing the guests of honor, including Milley, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump.
Avila was severely wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in 2011. He lost his left leg, suffered two strokes and two heart attacks, as well as anoxic brain damage that has left him paralyzed, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Music therapy has been “a crucial rehabilitation tool” for Avila’s healing process, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Avila’s stunning performance and resilience left the nation’s top military officials visibly moved. Trump moved his head, bounced his knee, and sang the words along with Avila as he sang the first verse. The entire crowd joined in for the second chorus. As he finished the song, Trump rushed arms open to embrace Avila and his wife, Claudia.
Avila later presented Trump, Pence and other officials with a challenge coin.
During remarks earlier in the ceremony, Dunford referenced Avila and his fellow wounded warriors.
“At the end of this ceremony, you will hear Army Cpt. Luis Avila sing a tribute to America. Captain Avila was seriously wounded in action and today, represents all of the wounded warriors and killed in action of our military. Both our friends and enemies alike should know that we who wear the uniform of the United States of America, the cloth of our nation, we are all Captain Avilas,” Dunford said.
“And we are all willing to lay it on the line every day to risk grievous injury or death to preserve this experiment in liberty that we call America and pass it on to the next generation,” Dunford added.