WESTERLY — Dan Lapointe does the same thing almost every morning. He puts on his white cowboy hat and black leather biker vest, covered with pins and badges from his time serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Add a plaid shirt and pair of jeans to LaPointe’s signature attire and the ponytailed Westerly resident is hard to miss.
Lapointe’s outfit reflects his eclectic mix of interests and personal history, from war veteran and chairman of the local veterans board to his one-man country and gospel band, Glorybound, debuting Tuesday at a Pawtucket Red Sox game at McCoy Stadium.
Many of Lapointe’s interests and activities stem from his earlier years living in Bristol, Conn., where he grew up in a Catholic family, playing guitar in several bands before enlisting in the Navy in 1965. He spent one tour during Vietnam aboard the USS Chicago, a guided missile cruiser that held the world record at the time for most kill potential, according to Lapointe. After a year and a half aboard the cruiser, Lapointe returned home to a less than celebratory fanfare.
“There were rocks, eggs, tomatoes thrown at us,” he said. “We were called names. It was not a good picture.”
Lapointe said the scorn he faced after returning from the war served as a source of motivation for his work for the Westerly-Pawcatuck Veterans Board of Control, which he has chaired since 1991. As chairman, Lapointe organizes the annual Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades each year, and described himself as devoted to the veteran cause.
“We don’t treat them as heroes, we haven’t since Korea and Vietnam,” he said. “I believe that no veteran should go unremembered for what they’ve done. Every man and woman who puts a uniform on is a shot away from losing their life. They deserve to be recognized.”
Despite his tough, cowboy exterior, Lapointe tears up as he talks about one particular ceremony that has become a meaningful part of the annual Memorial Day parade, in which families of veterans cast flowers into the Pawcatuck River in remembrance of their loved ones.
“The parade itself is a celebration, but the ceremony is more solemn,” he said. “It’s a way to remember those who have fallen, and those who have served. For some families, it gives them closure.”
Though Lapointe said he still struggles with elements of sadness and post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the war, his passions have helped him overcome many negative feelings. In addition to veteran activism, Lapointe has devoted himself to music, specifically a blend of country and gospel songs that he performs in local churches and events through his band, Glorybound.
Lapointe explained how he was drawn to the Pawcatuck 7th Day Baptist Church in the early 1990s, studying with a church mentor with the intent to become a pastor, when he stumbled upon a new outlet to express his faith.
“God spoke to me and said it was not the way he wanted me to go,” he said of his pastoral studies. “As soon as he did, my phone rang, and it was my friend asking me to perform at his church.”
Already a musician — he played in several country and classic rock bands previously — Lapointe found gospel music the perfect opportunity to blend his religious beliefs and musical aspirations.
“My ministry is my music,” he said.
Since Glorybound took off in the early 1990s, Lapointe’s performances have become a fixture at church services throughout the region, as well as local events like Neighbor Day, the annual celebration on the steps of Westerly Town Hall, scheduled this year for Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m..
“When the event first started, I did the whole show,” he said. “Now it’s grown a bit, and there are other performers as well.”
Lapointe’s repertoire of music has grown as well; he estimated he could play at least six to eight hours of music easily, including his own compositions, which he sells on CDs at events.
Now, the local performer will be traveling to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket to perform a pre-game show for the Pawtucket Red Sox game on Tuesday. Lapointe submitted an application through the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame several months ago, after seeing an advertisement looking for musicians to perform before the games. His application, along with MP3 copies of several of his original songs, landed him a performance at the baseball stadium, which will include the Star Spangled Banner before the first pitch.
Lapointe said his show will likely focus on more country and contemporary songs, instead of gospel.
“I’ll feel them out, and see how it goes,” he said. “If I play a few gospel songs and it speaks to the crowd, that could change things.”
In the meantime, Lapointe will continue practicing and playing on any of his seven guitars from his home studio on Spring Street, where he lives with his wife, Valerie.
“She’s basically my inspiration to continue my music,” he said. “She helped me get over my PTSD a lot too.”
Lapointe explained how, when he and Valerie first met in the early 1990s, his friends warned her to stay away from him.
“I was a bitter vet with an attitude,” he said.
His relationship with Valerie, as well as a year and a half of counseling, helped him move past his bitterness. His counselor was also a Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war for six years during the war.
“If anybody could pull you through, he could do it,” Lapointe said of his counselor.
Now, Lapointe wears his vest every day to remember his own past, and the many other war veterans he is committed to honoring.
“It took me a long time to deal with being a vet, to accept it and own it with pride,” he said. “This vest helps me do that.”
Glorybound will perform at McCoy Stadium on Tuesday beginning at 10:15 a.m., and continuing until the game begins at noon. Copies of Lapointe’s CDs will be available at the show.