Former G.I. and Police Officer Becomes a Leading Actor

J.W. Cortes
Charles Diaz J.W. Cortes

Gotham's J.W. Cortes uses his vast life experience to help war veterans and people with autism

You started life in a New York City neighborhood filled with gangs and went on to become a soldier and later on a police officer. How did you end up being an actor and singer?

In 2003, I was one of the Marines who was part of the invasion of Iraq. There, I realized I wasn’t ready to die. I thought about my mother, my father, the lessons they always taught me. One thing that came to my mind [was that I] really loved to act and sing. I prayed very hard. I asked God for another chance. I said: ‘God, if you can save me, if you can make sure that I don’t die here, I never want to feel like this again, that I’ve taken life for granted.

How much of your experience in Iraq informs what you do now, what you want to achieve?

In war, people die, sadly. I now understand what it is to lose someone. Taking those experiences and using them in the arts has not only made me an actor, but a much better human being. What I do now [is talk to other war veterans] to show them that you don’t have to suffer alone. I’m one of the lucky veterans who came home with my legs, my hands, my arms, my eyes. I have so much to be thankful for.

You believe in making the world a better place…

That’s how we live on in this world. When [my son] Jonah was about 20 months old, his doctor explained to me that Jonah was on the autism spectrum. He said many [Hispanics] are late to getting help. That hit me so hard, I said I had to do something. [After getting help, my son] is mainstreamed in a regular classroom and also on the honor roll. There’s hope and we have to seek help.

For more information on autism, visit autismspeaks.org. For more information about resources for war veterans, visit gotyour6.org.

For Spanish version of this article, please visit People en Espanol

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