CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Joe DiMaggio once said, “You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.”
This week, Major League Baseball celebrated opening day at stadiums from San Diego to New York and everywhere in between. Some ballparks celebrated the start of the regular season by showing highlight reels from the previous season, giving away free programs featuring fans’ favorite players, having a ceremonial first pitch and even welcoming hall of fame players back to the diamond. While each ball club had different festivities planned to start their season, the Cleveland Indians had a special treat for their fans.
The Indians hosted the Toronto Blue Jays for the start of their regular season, April 5.
In addition to the festivities before the game, the Indians paid special tribute to the Armed Forces. Two hundred stadium employees unfurled a giant American flag, a joint-service color guard presented the colors, a wounded warrior threw out the ceremonial first pitch and two CH53 “Echo” helicopters performed a fly over. While this may be common on opening day, one tribute made this one unique.
CWO4 John Walter, maintenance officer, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), sang the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and he did so live via satellite from Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
“I can remember going to my first ball game in 1977 at Yankee Stadium – it was electric,” Walter said. “Ever since, baseball has been the sport I enjoy the most, so the chance to be a part of a [Major League Baseball game] was definitely important.”
Walter, a Northport, N.Y. native, says singing the national anthem was on his list of things to accomplish.
“I have a dear friend Jennifer who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma,” Walter said. “During her treatment, she and her son lived with my family. During those nine months, living every day and absolutely enjoying life was our focus of effort. She and my wife Brenda began making a bucket list of things to do.
“I had a couple items on my list as well. One of which was to sing the national anthem at a Major League Baseball game. I am not necessarily a singer, but that wasn't the point. The point was just to take the risk and do it. This opportunity presented itself, and I had to exploit it.”
Walter spent the weeks leading up to the game practicing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” between meetings and work in Afghanistan. He would sing anywhere he could, including indirect fire bunkers.
“To be honest, my preparation was a bit embarrassing,” Walter said. “Singing the national anthem in concrete bunkers and in the showers kind of put me out there to be exposed ... but that was all part of the entire experience.”
The game was televised throughout the U.S., and Walter’s family and friends were able to watch him perform.
“My wife and kids gathered at her sister's house to watch.” Walter said. “My brother-in-law in New York contacted the local watering hole and made sure the game would be played. He then got the word out, so my whole family was there. I’m happy that they were able to see it live.”
Walter, who is currently on his tenth deployment, says he is glad to have had the opportunity to mark an item off his bucket list.
“It was such an honor to represent my Marine brothers and sisters who are out here in Afghanistan, sacrificing where required and operating as professionals,” said Walter.
Although the Indians lost their home opener in 16 innings, the fans were still able to see something wonderful happen – a Marine currently serving in Afghanistan sing the country’s national anthem before the start of America’s favorite pastime.