I would never honor a veteran with a 21-gun salute using toy guns because they’re fake. I would never play Saving Private Ryan at a veteran’s funeral to remember his bravery because it’s embellished. I would never pay tribute to a deceased veteran with a recording of taps because it’s disrespectful. But I’m not the one in charge.
But Congress is. The folks on Capitol Hill passed legislation in 2000 making legal “a recorded version of taps using audio equipment” if a live bugler couldn’t attend the ceremony. The request was made by the Defense Department because of military downsizing and the logistics of having a bugler attend every veteran’s funeral.
According to Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott, “The installations were having a harder and harder time meeting the requirements. As the number of active duty military is decreasing, the number of deaths is increasing; so it’s a significant challenge.”
She’s right. About 1,500 U.S. military veterans die each day, and last year more than 550,000 veterans died. The Department of Veterans Affairs expects that number to be the average for the next seven years due to aging veterans of World War II and the Korean War.
But that’s no excuse. The bugler is an unmistakable presence at a veteran’s funeral. The somber completion of the 24 notes of taps not only marks the end of a gentle melody, but the conclusion of a veteran’s sacrifice as well.
The Pentagon’s effort to accommodate 10 to 15 percent of the requests from families for funeral honors is a disgrace. The fact that “funeral kits,” which include CD recordings of taps, are sent out to military bases across the nation is an outrage.
What’s worse is the initiative to utilize “push button” devices that can be inserted into a bugle’s bell. When taps is to be played during a service, a bugler simply hits a button, puts the bugle to his lips, and the recording emitted from the horn gives the illusion that the bugler is actually playing the instrument. Or it gives the illusion that Congress has actually taken the high road with this legislation.
Considering the Defense Department’s $380 billion allocation approved by Congress and President Bush, it’s a shame that a few dollars aren’t spent to increase the number of buglers in the Army. Currently, there are about 500 buglers in all branches of the military. That said, both the executive and legislative branches of government must have overlooked the “Taking Good Care of our Veterans” section in the fiscal 2004 Department of Defense budget release.
Tom Day, however, did anything but ignore this problem. He founded Bugles Across America in 2000 soon after the legislation was passed, and has since recruited thousands of volunteers to play taps at funeral services. The organization boasts the recruitment of 2,366 buglers from all 50 states, who are “ready to serve.”
Bob Miller is one of them. The 53-year-old Vietnam veteran heard one such recording at a friend’s memorial service and decided to take action. He learned the 24 notes to taps, grabbed a trumpet, and has since played the salute about 1,800 times, on some occasions playing the tribute up to five times a day.
“A veteran who served the country didn’t fight a phony war, didn’t get shot at with phony bullets and doesn’t deserve a phony honor,” Miller said.
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of respect. And it isn’t coming from a recording.
Brandon Lausch can be reached at Goskateboarding2000@hotmail.com.