Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 26, 2014

24 Melancholy Notes

My grandfather, Felipe Garcia, was the first to tell me stories about the military. He served as a Sergeant Major in World War 1. My grandfather was instrumental in encouraging Hispanics from South Texas to enlist to serve their country. His contributions to the war effort are recorded in some books about the involvement of Hispanics in the First World War. Today, his military uniform is on permanent display in the museum in my hometown of Mission, Texas. My grandfather was proud of his military service and always modeled what it means to have a high regard for those who fight to protect our freedoms.

Felipe Garcia WW1 Seated
Throughout his life, my grandfather maintained a deep respect for those who serve in the military. His three sons served in the military and his only daughter married a career Navy officer. He always believed that America is the land of the free because of the brave and was very active in his local veterans’ post. Although I did register for the draft near the end of the Vietnam War, I never served in the military. Like my grandfather, however, I have always had a high regard and abiding gratitude for those who died to protect our freedoms.

In my early years of high school, I accepted an invitation from a veterans’ organization to play Taps at the funeral of a young man from McAllen who had been killed in Vietnam. As the moment approached for me to sound the twenty-four melancholy notes of what is the most recognizable military bugle call, I was gripped by a great sense of responsibility. In the words of US Air Force bugler Jari Villanueva, “Sounding Taps is the most sacred duty a bugler can perform.” He is right! After that day, I was invited to play Taps at military funerals many times throughout my high school years.

The origin of Taps dates back to the Civil War. In the days before field radios and wireless communication, military leaders depended on bugle calls to guide the movement of their men in battle. Union General Daniel Butterfield had bugle calls composed that his men would recognize as distinctly theirs in the heat of battle. Not satisfied with the bugle tune that signaled his men to extinguish lights and go to bed, Butterfield worked with his bugler to modify the tune that we now know as Taps. Although never intended to be a funeral ballad, it was first played at a military funeral during the Civil War. Finally in 1891, the year my grandfather was born, Taps was recognized in a military manual as a key component of a military funeral.

Today, Taps is played at least twenty times per day at Arlington National Cemetery, every evening at US military bases around the world, and countless times at military funerals and memorial services. The tune has become a part of our national conscience. No other notes can evoke such emotion from brothers-in-arms and family and friends at a funeral than the twenty-four haunting notes of Taps. In the words of Oliver Willcox Norton, General Butterfield’s brigade bugler, “There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air.”

I like Norton’s description of the beauty of the twenty-four melancholy notes that we know as Taps. Just as the echo of the tune lingers in the heart long after the bugler has stopped playing, so does the legacy of the fallen linger. On this Memorial Day may we remember with gratitude the bravery of those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy.


Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this. “Taps” is a beautiful melody. The bugler must have great confidence and focus to play it flawlessly and beautifully. I am thankful for those in our military who are trained to pay respects. The men who served at my dad’s funeral were impeccable, and it meant a lot to me.

  2. Your grandfather would be proud. Well done, grandson


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