America Supports You: Group Trumpets Final Honors at Vets' Funerals
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2005 At age 99, Leonard "Rosie" Ross attends his share of funerals. But in most cases, it's not for a friend or loved one. Ross, in his American Legion uniform, trumpets "Taps" for fellow veterans he's never met, representing a nonprofit group called Bugles Across America.
Marine Corps veteran Mark Paradis, a regional director for Bugles Across America, plays trumpet during a recent military commemoration in Raritan, N.J. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Ross is the oldest of thousands of horn players nationwide who believe a recorded rendition of "Taps" playing from a "boombox" just doesn't deliver the proper gravesite tribute to veterans who sacrificed for their country. So they volunteer their time, toting their trumpets, cornets, flugelhorns and bugles to gravesites across the country to play the soulful 24 notes known as "Taps" at veterans' funerals.
Ross, who remembers playing retreat on his trumpet outside Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's window in London during World War II when he served with 8th Air Force, calls it a privilege to play "Taps" for fellow veterans.
"I'm glad to do it for the family and for the veterans. They deserve it," said the Mayer, Ariz., native. "I'll do it as long as I can, and I thank God I'm still able to."
Tom Day, a World War II veteran from suburban Chicago, founded Bugles Across America in 2001 to keep up with the demand for buglers at funerals for the estimated 1,800 veterans who die each day nationwide. With about 900 requests for buglers every day, and just 500 active-duty buglers available for funeral duty as well as other events, there simply weren't enough live horn players available to meet the need, he said.
After Congress mandated in 2000 that every veteran's family who wanted it was entitled to graveside military honors for their loved one, the "Taps" played during the service too often was pre-recorded, Day said. Other times, it was played through a digital device inserted into a bugle that, although it looked more authentic, was still recorded, he said.
"That just wasn't right," he said. "When you have a live horn, you have emotion. And it tells the family that somebody came to the funeral and played in person to honor the veteran personally. That's a whole lot better than pressing a button and getting 'Taps' on a CD."
So Day sent out a call to musicians, urging them to join Bugles Across America as a tribute to veterans. They responded in droves. Today the organization's 5,000 members -- which include musicians, drill teams and color guards -- support about 1,000 funerals a month throughout the United States.
During the past four years, the buglers, who range in age from 10 to 99 and represent every race, creed and color, have played "Taps" at about 55,000 funerals, including about 60 percent of those for casualties of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Day said. They also play at other military events, including Veterans Day and Memorial Day observances.
Participation in the organization is free, open to everyone able to play "Taps" with dignity and willing to volunteer their time, Day said. He regularly scours pawnshops and flea markets in search of secondhand horns, then cleans them up and donates them to buglers who don't have their own instruments but want to participate.
"People want to do this. They recognize this as something they can do to play tribute to those who served," said Day, whose long affiliation with the military includes eight years in the Marine Corps, four years in the Navy, three years in the Coast Guard, and eight years teaching Junior ROTC.
"It's a way for them to honor veterans and their families when veterans go to God's army in the sky," he said.
Mark Paradis, a former Marine Corps corporal who lives in northern New Jersey, said he feels honored to play at veterans' funerals through Bugles Across America.
"To me, it's a way to pay respect to that veteran and provide closure and comfort to that family," said Paradis, a regional director for Bugles Across America. "It's also a way for me to say thank you and to give back to our community and to our veterans. The Marine Corps gave so much to me, and this is my way of giving something back."
Day, who played "Taps" at a military funeral for the first time when he was just 10 years old, has since played at more than 4,000 funerals, seeing no end in sight. "This brings people comfort, and it's something I can do for them," he said.
"After all, you know that it's the Marines who guard the gates of heaven," Day said, his smile resonating through the telephone line as he spoke.
"And when they hear live 'Taps,' you're in immediately. If it's fake, you have to wait in line," he said. "So you've got to have live 'Taps.'"