To play at Arlington
Madras JROTC Army instructor Kyle Yeager was among a select group of buglers and trumpet players from across the U.S. chosen to play "Taps" in unison May 19, at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the song's 150th anniversary.
"For a bugler, this is like playing at Carnegy Hall. Arlington is the granddaddy of all the national cemeteries," Yeager said enthusiastically.
Now a retired staff sergeant, Yeager spent 20 years in the military, from 1986-2006, as a trumpet player for the Army Band, while also undergoing military training.
"I was in Germany with the 3rd Infantry Division when the Berlin Wall came down, and in Korea with the 8th Army Band during 911," Yeager said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
In the military band, he performed all kinds of music, from jazz and rock, to marching and show tunes. They also did joint concerts with "sister" bands in other countries.
"Music is the universal language. You could sit next to someone from the German Army Band and your language might be limited, but you could both read the same music," he observed.
But one of his main duties with the band was to play for military funerals, during which the final goodbye to the departed was the song "Taps." "`Taps' at the end of a funeral is like an `amen' at the end of a prayer," he observed.
The tune is actually a variation of an earlier bugle call known as the "Scott's Tattoo" which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860.
It was arranged in its present form by the Union Army Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, an American Civil War general in July 1862 to replace the previous French bugle call used to signal "lights out."
Butterfield's bugler, Oliver W. Norton, of Erie, Pa., was the first to sound the new call, and within months, `Taps' was used by both the Union and Confederate forces. It was officially recognized by the U.S. Army in 1874.
During nine of Yeager's last 10 years of service, he was stationed in Hawaii, where he played for many burials at Hawaiian national cemeteries.
"The most burials I did in one day was six. In my 20 years in the military, I did 864 funerals for veterans, retirees and active duty military personnel," Yeager noted.
After he was out of the military, he quit playing the trumpet. He and his wife Fe, who is from the Philippines, worked one year at Glacier National Park, then two years at Grand Canyon National Park, before moving to Madras in 2008.
But sitting in church one day he could hear where the trumpet part was supposed to go in the music, and felt the urge to fill the gap.
"I didn't realize how much I missed it," he said, adding, "I borrowed a trumpet from the MHS band and started playing again."
This year, while on Facebook, Yeager was intrigued by a posting about the "Taps 150 Ceremony" at Arlington Cemetery. Checking on the qualifications, he sent in information on his military musical background and, to his delight, was selected.
Not only was it an honor to be chosen, but this would also be his first visit to Washington, D.C.
During the May 16-20 trip, Yeager and his wife stayed in Baltimore, Md., with a trumpet player he had served with in the Army, visited the National Firefighters Memorial and Gettysburg, went sightseeing around Washington, D.C., and ate at the historical Gadsby's Restaurant, which centuries ago, was frequented by George Washington.
"I was a history major in college," he said, noting his excitement about visiting some of the historic spots.
May 19, on Armed Forces Day, 200 of America's top trumpet players and buglers gathered at Arlington National Cemetery's Old Amphitheater for a ceremony which ended with them playing "Taps" in unison, then playing a four-part harmonized version of "Taps."
For the last performance, following the chimes at noon, each horn player got to pick a graveside or monument to stand at as they played.
"I chose to perform `Taps' at the graveside of Union Civil War bugler John Cook," Yeager said, noting Cook, 15, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Antietam.
While working as a litter bearer for the wounded, Cook helped man the cannons to defend the position during the battle, and saved many lives.
To Yeager's surprise, he came face-to-face with one of Cook's descendents at the gravesite.
"When I arrived at Cook's grave, his great-granddaughter, Beatrice Giez, was at the grave with her husband! What an honor it was to perform for them," Yeager said.