He was one of the good ones.
Country music will forever be linked with a pride and love for this country and our military, and there might not be an artist in the history of the genre that loved America more than Toby Keith. Earning the nickname “the Angry American,” some of Toby’s greatest hits were odes to the flag and the men and women who fight for it.
Perhaps no moment better encapsulated his patriotism than at his September 8th, 2012 show in Houston. Toby had already dedicated the performance to the families of the men and women serving overseas, but he had something even stronger planned to celebrate them.
Before performing his hit “American Soldier,” he brought a military wife up on stage with him. He asked her about her husband, Major Pete Cruz, who was stationed overseas in Afghanistan. He then dedicated the song to both Pete and his own father, who lost one of his eyes while serving.
The performance brought the unnamed wife to tears as Toby played his tribute to military families. In all the ways “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” highlights the loud and brash patriotism of many following 9/11, “American Soldier” boils down the motivations and reality of the difficult life the troops lead every single day in a very real and raw way.
Leading into the first chorus, Toby handed off the microphone to have Pete’s wife sing the line “I’m true down to the core.”
All of this was a beautiful tribute, but it was nothing compared to what Keith had in store next. As the song concluded Toby looked offstage to have someone bring him a guitar for his next song. This was no stagehand, however. Instead, Major Pete Cruz came out onstage to hand Toby an American flag clad guitar and embrace his wife.
The wife was obviously surprised, and the couple hugged and kissed for a long moment on stage while the crowd cheered them on. Toby shook hands with Major Cruz and thanked him for his service, and had one more surprise in store.
He led straight into “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” one of the most moving military tributes in country music history. The crowd loved the patriotic energy and sang along to every word, and when it came down to the song’s most iconic line, Toby turned the microphone over to the major to deliver the immortal words: “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.”
Toby was truly a one of a kind performer and man. He will be missed.
Check out the full clip here: