On Veterans Day, a 24-note bugle tune serves as a powerful reminder

Promptly at 5 p.m., every day, rain
or shine, blizzard or heat, a volunteer bugler wearing a period World
War I U.S. Army uniform stands at attention near the flagpole at
the National World War One Memorial not far from the White House in
Washington D.C. On a brilliant autumn day, I watched as a Black soldier
attired in a World War I Army uniform marched to the memorial’s
flagpole. He wore the distinctive blue helmet of the 93rd
Infantry Division, the “Blue Helmets” one of two all-Black infantry
divisions of the American Expeditionary Force assigned to the
blue-helmeted French army in World War I. 

With a polished bugle under his arm,
he faced the memorial. At attention the bugler watched and waited.
Promptly at 5 p.m. he snapped the bugle to his lips and played “Taps.”
Pedestrians stopped at the memorial and along the nearby busy street.
Downtown Washington D.C. quieted for a minute. Removing my
western-styled broad-brimmed Montana hat, I covered my heart and honored
the moment. A thousand thoughts flowed through my heart while watching
the American flag and hearing “Taps” at the Memorial.

Thoughts a military veteran cannot speak but only feel.

The ceremony ended. I talked with the
bugler: An active-duty soldier who performs with the Army band. He
volunteers playing “Taps” to honor all Americans in uniform and
commemorates the black soldiers of the 93rd Infantry Division. He said
he is honored to serve at the memorial. I thanked him. We exchanged
salutes, and he marched away.

Today the meaning blurs between
Veterans Day and Memorial Day: Veterans Day honors the living in
uniform, Memorial Day honors the dead in uniform. But the strong sinews
of remembrance and honor bind both into lasting chords of who we are and
what we are as a people. “Taps” honors the living and the dead. 

The mournful 24-note bugle tune
“Taps” remains recognizable throughout America.  The tune lasts about a
minute. “Taps” crosses all ethnic, racial, religious, societal,
and gender boundaries. Buglers play “Taps” at veterans funerals,
memorials, and ceremonies, honoring those who served in America’s armed
forces. The simple but profound tune carries on high the character of
the common GI: Simple in their daily lives, but profound in their
character, strength and dedication to the ideal of freedom. 

“Taps” is not a song, but a bugle
tune. “Taps” began in 1862 during the Civil War. Bugle calls gave
commands to soldiers above the din of battle. U.S. Army Major
Gen. Daniel Butterfield wanted a bugle tune to end the day and call
soldiers to rest from their efforts and extinguish lights. Butterfield
worked with bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton and together they modified an
existing but long tune and created “Taps.”  

Much fact and fiction, legend and
lore, surrounds “Taps.” That’s OK. The tune does not belong to anyone,
it belongs to all who wish to render honors for those who wore
the uniform of a nation, which thirsts for freedom. In the words of
Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, “It is altogether fitting and proper that
we should do this.”