Taps is the famous musical piece sounded by the U.S. military during funerals and ceremonies. This bugle (or trumpet) call was written during the Civil War by Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield in 1862. Soon after, Taps was used by both Union and Confederate forces.
We will hear it played many times on this Memorial Day weekend as we honor those men and women who died during military service.
My father served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War (1950-1953). Though he did not die while in service, he, as with all veterans, received a military funeral upon his death. He was buried in Riverside National Cemetery and the funeral included the playing of Taps. Hearing the tune increased the sadness I felt that day. It was a reminder to me of what he might have experienced in the War, and how that experience may have been a contributing factor to the sad life he lived. He died in 2003 at the age of 73. Whenever I hear Taps, I think of my father. (UPDATE, 2016: I will now also think of my Uncle Marshall, whose military funeral I attended earlier this month.)
A few months before my father died, I saw the Korean War Memorial for the first time. Larger-than-life statues in patrol formation, and a sea of faces on a granite wall. The East Coast had just survived its worst storm in 100 years when I (along with my son and his eighth grade class) visited Washington D.C. at the end of February 2003:
I didn’t know until today that there are words to Taps. I wish I had known them on the day of my father’s funeral. Singing those words would have brought extra comfort to me as I gazed at the coffin in which he lay. Butterfield originally composed his piece without lyrics. However, several versions appeared later that included lyrics. Here is the first, written by Horace Lorenzo Trim:
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.
Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Such clear imagery of the night coming, but with the promise of God being near. There is no reason to fear.
I would have sung along with the bugle and used the lyrics to envision my father’s moving on to his eternal destination. When Dad awoke, he would see that God had led him into the light of the dawn that shineth bright: Heaven and eternal life.
Looking forward to seeing you there, Dad. Joyful and whole and living in the Light.