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Digitized Bugle Studied for Use at Military Funerals

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2002 – The Department of Defense is studying the use of a "digital" bugle to render taps at veterans' military funerals.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
The "digital" bugle is a regulation instrument that employs a cone-shaped, battery-powered digital musical device to play taps at military funerals. The device (shown below the bugle) slides snugly deep into into the bell. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.

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

The digital unit won't replace trained buglers, but it is an alternative to the audio tapes and compact discs that have been used at many military funerals in recent years. It consists of a standard bugle that has a special electronic device inserted into its bell.

DoD has shipped 50 of these ceremonial bugles to military units and veterans' groups in Missouri for six months' testing, said Mark Ward, DoD's senior policy adviser on casualty and mortuary funeral honors.

Ward said the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2000 authorized the playing of taps at veterans' military funerals. However, he noted, the entire U.S. military has only about 500 buglers while more than 1,800 veterans pass away each day.

That number of veterans "precludes us from having a live bugler at every service, which is not only the department's desire, but also that of many of our veterans' families," Ward explained.

Any person with an honorable discharge is eligible to receive military funeral honors, he said. In an attempt to meet the demand for buglers, he continued, the services distributed audio cassettes to play taps.

When the sound quality of cassettes was found to deteriorate quickly with repeated use, Ward said, a higher quality compact disc recording was pressed into service in late 1999. The CDs were issued to military units, U.S. embassies and consulates, veterans' groups and funeral directors, he noted.

"But a recorded version of taps, no matter how good the quality, did not give our family members the visual image of a live bugler," Ward pointed out. This led, he said, to the development of the digital unit. The cone-shaped device looks like a trumpet mute, but it fits snugly deep in the bugle's bell and plays a high-quality rendition of taps.

John Molino, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, introduced the special bugle Oct. 23 to veterans' service organizations at American Legion Headquarters here.

"This is a real bugle," Ward emphasized. In normal use, the audience can't see the device -- and if it's removed, the bugle becomes standard issue. "The device has a volume control and is powered by two nine-volt batteries. It is water-resistant and usable in all types of weather."

The ceremonial bugles are neither substitutes for live buglers nor intended to be blanket replacements for them, Ward maintained.

"If we can get a live bugler, that's our first priority," he explained. "Absent a live bugler, though, our ceremonial bugle is an alternative to the 'boom box' CD player." He said families of deceased veterans will be asked before the funeral service about their preference for the playing of taps.

Missouri was chosen for the test because of its robust state funeral honors program, Ward said. Those groups that have the bugles and the families who choose to use them will be asked to complete an evaluation survey, he added.

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