When Dan Clark finished his performance of "God Bless America" after the top of the seventh inning last night at Fenway, the Internet exploded in praise of a man we were told was a retired United States Marine Corps Sergeant. We were told wrong, a source at the United State Marine Corps acknowledged.
Dan Clark, known as "The Singing Trooper," is indeed a retired sergeant—of the Massachusetts State Police. He's performed his patriotic act all over the country, including numerous times at Fenway Park. He's never done it in a USMC uniform, though (most often, he's worn his state trooper duds) which made us wonder exactly what was up with Clark wearing dress blues for his performance during the World Series:
When you see the word "Retired" after a Marine's rank, it means they served for at least 20 years before being granted retirement benefits. It's a mark of honor, and one that immediately identifies the bearer as having dedicated a significant portion of their live to the Corps. Dan Clark did, actually, serve with honor in the USMC from 1980 to 1984, according to his website. That makes him a veteran, not a retiree, though. Those two terms should not be conflated.
One of the benefits of earning USMC retirement (alongside the military pension) is the right to wear one's uniform after separating from active duty. Veterans who are honorably discharged but not retired may only wear their uniform if they served during a time of war and when in conjunction with a sanctioned event involving an active or reserve military unit.
We spoke with a United States Marine Corps spokesperson, who acknowledged that Dan Clark was given approval to wear his dress blues. The representative also acknowledged that Clark should not have been given this approval, but pointed out that the event at Fenway was the first major public spectacle the Corps had been able to mount in months due to the sequester and the government shutdown.
"With planning a flyover and color guard," the spokesperson stated, "there was a lot going on." (That's a polite way of saying that authenticity just wasn't the point, or really very important to anyone.)
Eagle-eyed Marine veterans immediately recognized something was wrong with Clark upon seeing him on their televisions last night. For one, a Marine who had served 20 years would likely have earned more awards than a Good Conduct ribbon and two marksmanship badges, as Clark wore on his jacket last night. Second, a Marine who had earned retirement would have at least four and possibly five service stripes—"hashes"—on his sleeves. (Marines earn one service stripe for every four years of service. Clark wore two, and only deserved one.)
This might seem like nitpicking, but ask a current or former Marine what he or she thinks about a man wearing a uniform he shouldn't be wearing, bearing stripes he didn't earn and a title he doesn't possess. As one USMC vet told me, "I'm more upset his uniform's not in spec than the fact he's wearing it in the first place." Another alleged Clark's salute "was crap."
A source at the USMC acknowledges that both the Corps and Clark made mistakes. (We're told he borrowed the jacket from someone, and didn't think to remove one of the service stripes.) The thing is, though, that Clark isn't a nobody; he's known throughout the country. You'd figure that someone—be it with the Red Sox, MLB, or Fox—would know the difference between "The Singing Trooper," former Marine or no, and a Marine Corps Sergeant (Retired). Maybe everyone just considered it beside the point.
There's no particular reason why a regular person would know that Dan Clark's military experience doesn't entitle him to the title "Retired." We'd hope it's not asking too much for Dan Clark to know that, though, or for the Marine Corps not to endorse the presentation of veterans as something other than what they are.
Update (4:21 p.m.): The Boston Red Sox have responded.
As a former Marine Sergeant, we asked him to wear a uniform for the performance. In the writing of his title, we were trying to emphasize that he is no longer active and there was an inadvertent equation of the words 'former' and 'retired' when referring to him.