Marine veteran Dan Clark brought the house down at Fenway Park in Boston on Game One of the World Series Oct. 23 when he performed a rousing rendition of God Bless America during the Seventh Inning Stretch, clad in crisp dress blues.
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Others wondered about his uniform and title: under his name on the TV broadcast, he was described as a “retired sergeant.” But the sleeves of his blues uniform showed two yellow hashmarks, indicating two four-year terms of service. And his awards rack just contained a Good Conduct ribbon and Expert rifle and pistol shooting badges.
We caught up with Clark to learn his story.
Better known as “The Singing Trooper,” Clark, 53, has performed at over 2,500 sports events, and military and official functions, including many Red Sox games and 24 opening ceremonies of the Boston Marathon in his native Massachusetts.
A 20-year member of the Massachusetts state police, Clark did serve in the Marine Corps from 1980 to 1984, he said, leaving with an honorable discharge. Though he asked to go into the infantry, he said, he was assigned to avionics.
“I requested fixed-wing, West Coast, so of course they sent me to rotors, East Coast,” he said.
He served at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. with what was then Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 204, before receiving a transfer to then-Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 365, to work service CH-53 Sea Stallion choppers.
Though Clark said he traveled to the Arctic Circle for a war game and went on a shore float to Honduras during his tour, he said, he never was able to deploy. When the Marines turned down his request to go to the drill field, he decided to leave the Corps after four years of service.
He believes the use of “retired” in the chyron was a broadcast mistake and describes himself as “honorably discharged” on his website.
Marine Corps Times asked Marine officials for details of Clark’s official service dates and awards, but they did not provide the data by press time.
Oct. 23 was the first major event for which Clark has worn dress blues, he said, rather than the dark double-breasted “Prince Charles” dress uniform he usually wears. He said he did so at the behest of Major League Baseball, which wanted to honor veterans during the event.
But getting the blues required some footwork on his part.
” I only had 18 hours to accomplish this,” he said. “Marine Corps dress blues are form fitted, and I have a body-builder body type.”
After a few leads fell through, somebody directed him to a recruiter in Saugus, Mass., Sgt. Jose Murillo.
“I go over and see this guy. It is like he’s my twin brother,” Clark said. “I put his blues on and it just fit me like a glove.”
The only problem? Murillo is a ten-year Marine and his blues had two hashmarks sewn into the sleeves. Clark said he couldn’t bring himself to rip out the extra service stripe.
Murillo, who has served five combat deployments, said he gave Clark the go-ahead anyway.
“I told him it wasn’t that big of a deal,” he said.
Thrilled, Clark called the Red Sox and got Murillo two tickets to the game. Murillo, who also showed up in full dress blues, accompanied him out to the field and gave him the final once-over before he sang.
“I escorted him on there and made sure he looked sharp in his uniform,” Murillo said. “I said ‘hey, I need to check you over before you go onto the field.'”
Clark said singing in his blues was an emotional experience, because of the dignity of the service he was representing. While in the Marines, he never told anyone about his previous musical and performing experience, because he felt it wasn’t his mission at the time, he said.
“I’m very animated, normally,” Clark said. “But I told myself, you are representing the United States Marine Corps. You will lock your body up.”
At the end of the song, he executed a crisp salute.
Though Clark has heard criticism here and there following his performance from those who saw the “retired” label and two hashmarks and thought he was misrepresenting himself, he said he could see putting on the blues again for select, meaningful performances.
“This year, the 25th anniversary of me performing at the Boston Marathon, you better believe I’m gonna step up on that stage in Marine Corps dress blues again,” he said. “I’m going to light that place up like never before.”