By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterMay 21, 2012
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, May 21, 2012) -- Intermingled with song birds 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 from 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 the executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program, 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. "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 Arlington National Cemetery's section two.
Tom Day, the founder of Bugles Across America, which is 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."
Alan Tolbert, a 13-year-old middle school trumpeter from Shippensburg, Pa., played near the burial site of Johnny Clem, a Civil War Union drummer boy who became the youngest noncommissioned officer in Army history and later 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."
(Jim Dresbach writes for the Pentagram newspaper, which serves Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.)