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First Name: Keith

Last Name: Clark


Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 21 November 1927

Date of Death: 13 January 2002

Rank: Sergeant

Years Served:
Keith Clark


Keith Clark
Sergeant, U.S. Army

Keith Clark was born on 21 November 1927.

On the afternoon of Friday, 22 November 1963, Sergeant Keith Clark, the lead trumpet player in the U.S. Army Band, was at home browsing through his collection of rare hymnals, when he learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Two weeks earlier he had sounded taps at Arlington National Cemetery at a Veterans Day ceremony attended by President Kennedy, and he had rendered its 24 notes flawlessly at hundreds of military funerals.

Now, Sergeant Clark knew that the eyes -- and the ears -- of millions would be soon be focused on him. So he embarked on a prosaic task far removed from his musical talents. ''We were musicians first and soldiers second in the band,'' he reflected long afterward. ''But I generally got a haircut every two weeks, and it was getting close to the 14th day.'' So Sergeant Clark went to a barber shop. But it was not until early Monday, the day of the funeral, that he received the phone call ordering him to sound taps at Arlington.

''The military goes crazy on dry runs and being there ahead of time,'' he once recalled. ''So I was to be there ready to play at 12:15. It was a rainy day, and we weren't allowed to wear overcoats. So I stood there in the drizzle for three hours.'' Sergeant Clark's lips grew cold as he waited, and the pressure mounted.

As he remembered the moment: ''It is like the speaker of the House saying, 'Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.' That is not at all hard to say. But to do it then, and to do it there, that's when the pressure comes. That's when it becomes difficult all of a sudden. A lot of people can sing in the shower.''

To make matters even more difficult, in order to be in view of the television cameras, Sergeant Clark was told to stand five yards from the squad of riflemen who fired three volleys in tribute to Kennedy after a 21-gun cannon salute. As a result, when he was called upon to sound taps at 3:08 p.m., the noise from the guns had momentarily rendered him deaf. On the sixth note, Sergeant Clark fluttered off-key. Then he went on to complete taps without another flaw.

In Retirement

After retiring from the Army, Clark was a music instructor at Houghton College in Houghton, NY. He later was a conductor and performer with southwest Florida-area musical groups such as the Venice Concert Band and the Atlantic Classical Orchestra.

He and his wife, Marjorie, lived in Port Charlotte, FL.


Sergeant Keith Clark died on 13 January 2002 at a hospital in Fort Pierce, FL. The cause of death was an aortic aneurysm he suffered after playing the trumpet at an orchestral recital. Clark was cremated and his ashes scattered in Maine.

Honoree ID: 2346   Created by: MHOH




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