Intermingled with songbirds and reverent silence, 200 buglers from around the country collectively sounded America’s most recognizable bugle call May 19 at Arlington National Cemetery.
From Section 60 to the Kennedy gravesites, the 150th anniversary of the bugle call taps was commemorated at a morning tribute in the Old Amphitheater and by sounding a mid-day rendition from corner to corner of the cemetery.
“This is an enormous privilege. I am honored,” said Jay Callahan of Greensboro, N.C. who sounded the call in the vicinity of Gen. John Pershing’s grave.
Like Callahan, who wore a typical World War I-era uniform featuring leggings and wool trousers, many buglers took the opportunity to wear war-period uniforms. Male and female, young and old, active duty and veterans traveled as far as California and Washington state to fill a sun-kissed sky with the gift of taps.
Before the mass-sounding, the buglers cradled their instruments during the anniversary commemoration and listened to executive director of Arlington National Cemetery, Kathryn A. Condon who thanked the standing room-only crowd for their attendance and their devotion toward veterans and active-duty service members.
“On behalf of Arlington [National Cemetery] and all of the other national cemeteries, I want to thank each and every one of you today for honoring our veterans – those who are laid to rest and those who are currently serving – with your presence today,” she said during her remarks. “I want to wish happy anniversary to taps because taps is even older than Arlington.”
History has recorded that taps formally replaced a French bugle call for lights out during the Civil War and was first sounded at a military burial in July of 1862. By 1900, the bugle call was routinely being played at every military funeral.
Many stories of cemetery location choices where buglers sounded the 24 notes of taps were poignant and touching. Bugler John Teller of Middletown, Md., who was dressed in Civil War-era garb, picked the burial site of his grandfather, U.S. Navy Capt. Steadman Teller, in ANC’s section two.
Tom Day, the founder of Bugles Across America – an organization devoted to providing a live sounding of taps at every military funeral – played at President Howard Taft’s grave. Born in Illinois, Day graduated from Chicago’s Taft High School.
Bruce McKee of Martinsville, Ind., made sure he played in section 34 where his long-time Air Force buddy is buried.
“To me, [playing here] is the Holy Grail,” said McKee, who was also joined by his 19-year-old daughter, Carrie, who also played taps during the Saturday ceremonies. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Basically, this is a dream come true for a bugler to stand here and play in this place.”
Thirteen-old old middle school trumpeter Alan Tolbert of Shippensburg, Penn., played near the burial site of Johnny Clem, a Civil War Union drummer boy who became the youngest noncommissioned officer in Army history and a brigadier general.
“This is a great opportunity to honor all those who served and died in the military,” said Tolbert. “Taps is something that differs from every other bugle call.”