How will you and your family recognize and commemorate Memorial Day this coming Monday?
Originally known as “Decoration Day,” the country’s first national observance dates back to May 30, 1868. Previous state specific ceremonies took place in the years following the Civil War, and often included “decorating” the graves of fallen soldiers.
Services and parades will mark the sober day of remembrance this year – but there’s a new tradition entering its fourth year that you should know about.
It’s called “Taps Across America” and was started by Jari Villanueva. A retired United States Air Force Master Sergeant who served as a bugler at Arlington National Cemetery for 23 years, Mr. Villanueva came up with the idea as a way to commemorate Memorial Day during the COVID pandemic.
Villanueva called on performers to sounds Taps out on their porches or wherever they were at 3 PM.
A ceremonial trumpeter, the 23-year veteran has participated in more than 5,000 ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, and has served as an assistant drum major heading up the United States Air Force Ceremonial Brass for funerals.
“Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to render emotion than the call Taps,” writes Mr. Villanueva. “The melody is both eloquent and haunting and the history of its origin is interesting and somewhat clouded in controversy.”
In the British Army, a similar call known as Last Post has been sounded over soldiers’ graves since 1885, but the use of Taps is unique with the United States military, since the call is sounded at funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services.
Up to the Civil War, the infantry call for Lights Out was that set down in Silas Casey’s (1801-1882) Tactics, which had been borrowed from the French. The music for Taps was changed by Union General Daniel Butterfield for his Brigade (Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac) in July of 1862.
As the story goes, General Butterfield was not pleased with the call for Lights Out, feeling that the call was too formal to signal the day’s end. With the help of the brigade bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, Butterfield wrote Taps to honor his men while in camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, following the Seven Day’s battle. These battles took place during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The call, sounded that night in July, 1862, soon spread to other units of the Union Army and was even used by the Confederates. Taps was made an official bugle call after the war.
I had the privilege of speaking with Jari Villanueva last evening. He is earnest, gracious, humble, and deeply committed to honoring our fallen heroes. A member of the Buglers Hall of Fame, he’s also a graduate of Peabody Conservatory and Kent State University.
A foremost expert on “Taps,” Jari notes that while there are no officials words to the music, there have been numerous verses attached to it over the years. They include:
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.
Amen. We give thanks for the many heroes who have sacrificed their lives on our behalf. May the Lord be merciful and comfort all those left behind.
Photo credit: TAPS Across America.