A welcome home for two Island soldiers
After finishing a tour in Iraq and also his commitment to the U.S. Marine Corps, Cpl. Christopher Clark received a big Island welcome home on May 29. As he drove off the ferry at 6 pm in Vineyard Haven with his wife Lilly and sons Corbyn, 4, and Dominic, 1-1/2, a color guard and members of American Legion Post #257 in Vineyard Haven greeted them, along with Island police, ambulance, and fire department personnel. American Legionnaire Edson Rodgers played patriotic music on his bugle.
The corporal's father, Richard Clark of Tisbury, breathed a sigh of relief. "He called and said they might get on an earlier boat going into Oak Bluffs - I told him he'd better be on this one," Mr. Clark said with a laugh, looking around at the welcoming party that included Corporal Clark's mother, Nancy Gardella and his grandparents Lorraine and Dick Clark, also of Tisbury.
When asked what he thought about his welcome back to the Island, Corporal Clark said modestly, "It was very surprising and generous - more than I deserved."
Although he hasn't lived on the Island for several years, Corporal Clark grew up in Vineyard Haven. While deployed in Iraq, his wife and sons lived in Rockford, Ill., near her family. When he finished his tour in Iraq and got out of the Marine Corps in April, he and his family decided to spend the summer with his mother on Martha's Vineyard, and then return to Rockford in the fall.
A postcard offering him a free pair of sunglasses led Corporal Clark to join the Marines, he said. After filling it out and mailing it, a recruiter called and asked if he was interested in the Marine Corps.
Corporal Clark said he figured he'd give the guy about five minutes of his time. Instead, the recruiter asked him a lot of questions and then told him he'd have to lose weight.
"I lost 20 pounds and called him back - I spent so much time thinking about it, I talked myself into it," Corporal Clark said. Thinking about college - and how to pay for it - also factored into his decision about joining up.
Corporal Clark enlisted in the Marines before graduating from the regional high school in 2003. Due to a delayed entry program, he was almost 19 before he reported for duty in 2004.
After testing, he qualified for assignment to the military police. Corporal Clark met his wife Lilly, also a Marine Corporal, at Henderson Hall in Virginia. She finished five years of service in 2006.
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Corporal Clark extended his four-year commitment for three months to go to Iraq for a seven-month tour starting in August 2007, where he served in Al Anbar province as a desk sergeant with a military police company responsible for base security. At that time, he said the area was in a state of reconstruction.
Corporal Clark has lined up a summer job in Tisbury as a traffic officer. He plans to continue taking college courses online through Park University, which he started while in the Marines, with a goal of becoming a police officer. In returning to civilian life, he said his biggest adjustment has been the realization that he no longer has to wear green fatigues or anything with a camouflage pattern.
A few days before Corporal Clark's homecoming, Lance Corporal Anthony Sullo, USMC, arrived on the Island for three weeks' leave on Saturday, May 24. West Tisbury Police Chief Beth Toomey said she received word about Corporal Sullo's arrival only a few hours ahead of time, but called around and was able to assemble some American Legion members, police, and fire department personnel to welcome him home.
Corporal Sullo, a 2006 graduate of the regional high school, was deployed to serve a seven-month tour in Kuwait where he patrolled along the Iraq/Syrian border. After finishing his tour in May, he headed back to the States to Camp Lejeune, N.C., before starting his leave on the Vineyard.
In a brief phone call last week, Corporal Sullo said he was enjoying being back on the Island and was on his way to a Red Sox game. He also was looking forward to celebrating his sister Gabrielle's high school graduation party last weekend.
After his leave is up, Corporal Sullo will return to Camp Lejeune, and he will be deployed to Afghanistan in February 2009.