<< The Body Politic

Honoring our Veterans through “Taps”

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

The iconic military hymn “Taps” has been a hallmark of American military funerals since 1891. Tom Day, founder of the organization Bugles Across America, strives to ensure that that tradition, and the veterans who died in America’s service, are not forgotten. In a new article in the Weekly Standard, the great Matt Labash describes Day’s lifelong commitment to honoring veterans.

Day’s involvement with recognizing service members began when he was a child, when he volunteered to perform “Taps” for a returning Korean War casualty. After an eight-year career with the Marine Corps and time spent in the Navy Reserves, Day sought to aid veterans even in his retirement. In 2000, federal legislation stipulated that every honorably discharged veteran was entitled to two uniformed military personal to present the flag and perform “Taps” at their funeral. As Labash notes, if a bugler could not be found for the performance, a recording would be used. Securing live buglers was an impossible task for the military, with just 500 buglers to serve the 1,8000 veterans who die every day. To ease the load, the military released “digital bugles” which play a recording of “Taps” but are shaped and held like a traditional instrument.

Dismayed by the use of electronic, rather than live, performances of “Taps” at military funerals, Day set out to assemble bugler volunteers to travel to military funerals and perform. Founded in 2000, Day’s Bugles Across America organization has enlisted 8,000 volunteers, covering around 35 percent of all live “Taps” playing throughout the nation, free of charge. Day organizes the list of volunteers, and whenever a performance request is submitted all volunteers within a 100-mile radius are notified. Day himself, who cannot read music, has performed at 5,000 funerals and described the challenge and importance of performing “Taps” at veterans funerals. Day said:

Funerals are not a fun job. But they’re a rewarding job. Because you are honoring something that was done for you whether you realize it or not. In this day and age, there are people who simply couldn’t give a rat’s patoot about the military. But let me tell you something—if it wasn’t for the military, they wouldn’t have the freedom not to care. And that’s something we have to look at from an honor standpoint. Whether you like them, whether you hate them—they put it on the line. It’s up to us to honor them.”