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Bugling Paratrooper in Iraq Carries on Family Tradition

By Sgt. Michael J. Carden, USA
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 25, 2005 – He was 6 years old when his grandmother first showed him the bugle.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Maj. Hugh Shoults, operations officer, Task Force Dragon, 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C., is the third generation of Shoults men to carry a family heirloom bugle to a combat zone. The familys tradition began with his grandfather in 1916. Shoults father and uncle carried the bugle in battle in World War II and Vietnam. Photo by Sgt. Michael J. Carden, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

She told him the history and the stories of the Shoults men who carried it to war, and of how the family tradition began in 1916 when his grandfather, a former U.S. Army sergeant with the Minnesota National Guard, carried the bugle to the Mexican border during the search for Pancho Villa, the rebel general of the Mexican Revolution. His grandfather also carried the bugle during World War I.

His grandmother also spoke of how his father, an Army fighter pilot, never learned to play the bugle, but still carried it to battle during World War II. His uncle, an Air Force pilot, continued the tradition during Vietnam.

"My grandmother told me that the bugle had been sitting at her house since my uncle got back from Vietnam, and one day the bugle may belong to me," said Maj. Hugh Shoults, operations officer, Task Force Dragon, 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C. His grandmother's premonition was correct. Shoults is the current caretaker of the family's bugle. He began playing Army bugle calls, such as "Assembly," "Reveille" and "Taps" as a youngster in Spokane, Wash.

"My father couldn't play, but being a World War II veteran, he knew the different bugle calls," Shoults said. "He would hum the bugle calls to me and I would play them. That's how I learned."

Shoults continued with his musical interests in high school. He played the trumpet, which is a sister instrument of the bugle and is played in the same manner. Although Shoults played the trumpet in high school, he never played his family's bugle publicly until he was in college. As an ROTC cadet at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Shoults, proud of his family's tradition, kept the bugle with him.

He played his family's bugle for the first time in public during a memorial ceremony the university held for the crew of the Challenger space shuttle, killed during the shuttle's explosion shortly after take-off on Jan. 28, 1986. Shoults said he played "Taps" in their honor. "It was an emotional ceremony, but I was happy to play," he said.

After completing ROTC and college, Shoults was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army's Chemical Corps. He was stationed in Vicenza, Italy, with 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. While there, he deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

He also deployed to Liberia. "I didn't really let anyone know that I had the bugle with me," Shoults said. "But I pretty much carried it around in my rucksack."

In Bosnia, a young 1st Lt. Shoults worked with Maj. Richard Hooker, now a colonel and Shoults' brigade commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Colonel Hooker remembered from Bosnia that I had my family's bugle," Shoults said. "He made sure to remind me to bring it to Iraq with me this time."

Since January, when Shoults deployed to Camp Victory here in support OIF, he has played his bugle for one memorial ceremony. On Valentine's Day, he played "Taps" at a service held for an explosive ordinance disposal soldier who was killed in action earlier that week.

"When I heard about the EOD soldier who was killed, I offered to play my bugle at his memorial," Shoults said. "I thought it would mean more to the troops, rather than "Taps" being played on a sound system or tape recorder."

Playing at the memorial ceremony was more difficult than he had anticipated, Shoults said. It was the first time he had played for a memorial service since November 2003, which was at his own father's funeral service, fulfilling a promise that he made to his father many years before he passed away, he said.

"The EOD memorial was very emotional for me," Shoults said. "I almost lost it right there. I had not played since my father's funeral."

Although playing the bugle at future memorial services may resurface sad memories for Shoults, he'll continue the family tradition to carry and play his bugle in honor of his fallen comrades, he said. "It's a great tradition," Shoults said. "I feel very honored and proud to carry my family's bugle."

Since Shoults' grandfather first carried the bugle nearly a century ago, the old brass bugle has been through eight American and allied conflicts, representing almost 90 years of sacrifice and selfless service by American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It has traveled over three oceans and four continents, serving in battle with those servicemembers in the hands of three generations of Shoultses.

"I've got two children," Shoults said. "Shelly is 6, and my son, Nick, is 7. If either of them chooses to serve in the military, I will give them the bugle and expect them to carry on the tradition. If not, they can keep it and give it to their children. I'm sure someone in our family, down the line, will serve again."

(Army Sgt. Michael J. Carden is assigned to Multinational Corps Iraq public affairs.)

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