Taps is no easy song to play

By Father Dennis Meinen
View from the Scooter

The soft piercing sounds of the most sacred tune of Taps is often played at cemetery services during flag ceremonies and graveside services, generally on bugle or trumpet.

Roger Meyer, the author of the following statement on Taps says: Playing Taps is easy, sounding Taps is tough. When you play it in your home, with no audience and no ceremony occurring, there is nothing to it. However, once you are standing graveside, waiting for the rifle volley, your throat starts to constrict and your heart starts to race. Even if you did not know the fallen hero, you get caught up in the emotions, knowing that here was someone willing to lay their life on the line for their fellow Americans and even for non-Americans around the world. You start to worry about messing up and ruining the final send-off of a military veteran. Tough? You bet! Taps, in most buglers’ view, is the 24 toughest notes there are. It is a simple tune with just a few select notes. You don’t even have to change which valves are depressed as you progress through it. Any fifth grade brass player can play it. But I did not say the hardest notes; I said the toughest. In addition to having to get it right the first time when sounding Taps, there is the added issue of having to get through those notes with the proper amount of honor and dignity.

Imagine a Marine Corps trumpeter, standing so erect in a dress uniform which he wears for formal or ceremonial occasions. Now, on a crisp morning, he begins by playing the languid, melancholy sound of a bugle call as he plays Taps.

“Day is done, Gone the sun,

From the lake, From the hill,

From the sky.

All is well, Safely rest,

God is nigh.”

You gather with the other mourners as they nestle together, silently weeping as the honor guard begins to assemble for the flag presentation ceremony. The greatest care is taken that no part of the American flag would touch the ground. The flag is carefully folded into the shape of a tri-cornered hat, reminiscent of the hats worn by the soldiers who fought the War of the Revolution and won American independence.

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it has the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington and the sailors and Marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, preserving for us the rights, privileges and freedoms we enjoy today.

Whenever I give a graveside service for a military veteran, my mouth tightens after the flag is folded because I know what is coming next. An honor guard composed of one or more branches of the United States Armed Forces, presents the flag to the proud, next of kin. The presenter kneels at his or her feet while presenting the folded flag, with the straight edge of the flag facing the designated person.  The presenter then recites the following wording:

On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.

I know heartstrings will be stretched to their breaking point as the honor guard finishes and departs, performing their crisp movements and snappy salutes.  Sometimes three rifle volleys ring out together in salute for one special man.  Other times Air Force jets orchestrate the beautiful “missing man formation,” as one plane separates, veering off to “touch the face of God.”

Finally, the family and members of this assembled “small church” hold on to each other as they depart.  With the loveliness and the soft lingering fragrance of beautiful flowers, they can understand how something so simple can be so meaningful.  A family member softly recites the following poem:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind be always at your back

May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home

And may the hand of a friend always be near.

May green be the grass you walk on,

May blue be the skies above you,

May pure be the joys that surround you,

May true be the hearts that love you.

Traditional Irish Blessing

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese, and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.


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