To the Editor:
On Nov. 12, at Glenwood Memorial Park in Mooresville, American Legion Post 66 once again sponsored a Veterans Day ceremony. For the past several years, the Navy JROTC cadets from Mooresville High School have performed this duty to honor our veterans with a wreath laying ceremony and a short program. Commander Michael Powden was the Master of Ceremony and Chief Stephen Tate observed the rank and file formation of bus loads of cadets who stood at attention during this hallowed and sacred service. Veterans from 18 to 90 were in attendance along with many local Mooresville citizens. At the end of the dignified and respectful service a young man stood alone and played “Taps.”
This story is not about the song or the history of this soulful sound played on a bugle or sometimes a trumpet. I encourage you to look into the history of the tune, but that’s not what I’m here to tell you about. I will say that “Taps” or “Butterfields Lullaby” is only 24 notes played traditionally at funerals and at the end of the day at sunset on military bases signifying, as the song states, “Day is done, gone the sun. …”.Nor is this story about the instrument, the bugle, which has no valves or moving parts that change the flow of air to make the different notes. Each note is struck by the bugler adjusting the volume of air and the pressure on the mouthpiece to change the pitch and tone of the bugle.
I have never played a bugle but have watched as many have strained and struggled to hit each note perfectly. Due to the vast numbers of veterans dying and the shortage of trained buglers, many organizations have procured electronic bugles. Anyone can hold this machine and hit a switch to produce a perfect set of 24 notes. I am not here to criticize the use of “electronic” bugles as I know they are a necessary convenience in today’s hurried times.
No, this story is about a young man who stood alone in a graveyard in the presence of many friends and strangers and played a melody – the same song that Oliver Norton, a Union Army bugler, first performed in July of 1862. It was played to honor Capt. John C. Tidball upon his death at Harrisons Landing in Virginia. At the command, “bugler, play ‘Taps,’” all eyes searched and located the young musician and waited to hear the well-known arrangement that would flow and consume the brisk fall air. But there was no sound. Soon the air began to move up from the lungs and over the lips of the nervous and exposed instrumentalist. First one note and then another began to echo across the grounds. At one point the struggling student seemed to stop, and I wondered if he would continue. But with courage and fortitude the cadet continued on until the last note had sounded.
As I stood at attention. I was acutely aware that no one had stirred or snickered at the young player’s errors and missed notes. A feeling of reverence cloaked the gathering and I for one was emotionally impacted. At the conclusion of the service all of the cadets walked among the attending veterans and thanked them for their service to America. I was surrounded by a sea of young people shaking my hand and thanking me for my years of military service. I looked around and tried to find the young cadet who had played that funeral hymn. I wanted to thank him for his service and for playing “Taps.”
All too often we want the “perfect” and laugh at the imperfect. We will settle for the ‘fake’ or ‘electronic’ ways because it is easier. But life is not perfect. A soldier is not perfect. Life is not easy. And a soldier’s life is far from easy. Like the notes that struggled to come forth from the bugle, we struggle to do the right thing in our everyday lives. I sometimes feel like quitting and giving up but I know that people depend on me to keep going. This young person also knew that people were depending on him and he did not give up.
I have taken some time to reflect on this event last month and feel that I must reach out and thank this cadet and let him know that his performance was the most honest and heart reaching I have ever witnessed. It was pure and from the soul. It was real.
Sam Allred is the commander of American Legion Post 66 in Mooresville, and served in the US Air Force in Vietnam. He has worked with all five branches of the military, including a tour in Washington, D.C. He retired as a Force Master Chief in the U.S. Coast Guard.