Organization gathers musicians to play taps at military funerals

Monday, May 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) _ The day before his grandfather's military funeral, Jonathan Taylor learned something would be missing.

Though the Army veteran would have an honor guard, no bugler was available to play taps, the traditional last salute. A recording was planned instead.

``I wasn't very happy about that,'' said Taylor, 24, of Roanoke. ``A recording doesn't seem like it's very appropriate.''

Hundreds of miles from home and without his trumpet, the former music major went to a store, borrowed an instrument and performed the duty himself.

The experience spurred him to join nearly 600 players nationwide in Bugles Across America, created a year ago by an Illinois state lottery worker who wanted to connect bugle, cornet, trumpet and fluegelhorn players with families who need them for military funerals.

``We're going great guns now,'' said Tom Day of Berwyn, Ill., who has seen his volunteer list grow to include all 50 states. ``By networking, we can accomplish our goal of having as many buglers as we possibly can.''

Families of honorably discharged veterans are entitled to a two-person uniformed funeral honor guard, the folding and presentation of the U.S. flag and a rendition of taps.

About 1,600 U.S. military veterans die each day. Most families don't request a military funeral honors ceremony, but the Pentagon tries to honor the wishes of the 10 percent to 15 percent who do.

Faced with a shortage of military buglers, Congress passed a law that took effect in 2000 allowing a recorded version of taps if a live horn player is not available.

Thousands of compact discs featuring taps were distributed to the nation's funeral directors. Although the effort may be well-intentioned, the idea of carting a boombox to the cemetery strikes a sour note with some veterans.

``It doesn't resonate,'' said Day, an ex-Marine. ``The veteran is gone, so this is his final reward for putting on a uniform. And most of them are World War II or Korea, and most of them have seen combat.

``They've told the stories to their family, they have a great deal of pride or they wouldn't have asked their family for a military send-off,'' he said.

The tradition began after Daniel Adams Butterfield, a Union general, directed bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton to honor troops who died during the Civil War's bloody Peninsula Campaign in July 1862 by playing notes he had written on the back of an envelope.

The piece was soon adopted throughout the military. In 1874, it was officially recognized by the Army, and it became standard at military funerals in 1891.

Volunteers to keep the tradition going include Tommy Loy, a trumpeter who played the national anthem at Dallas Cowboys home games for 22 years until 1989.

Loy, 72, recently had his first funeral call _ a request from a man whose father had spent 21 years in the Army. The request had added meaning because the site was Loy's hometown of Denison.

``Absolutely, I told the young man I would have it no other way. I would be there and I think the family appreciated it,'' Loy said.

The 24 notes are easy to play, said Taylor, who sounded the slow, mournful tune at his grandfather's funeral. The hard part is getting them right in the emotional time in which they are needed.

``I didn't miss a note _ luckily,'' he said.