He did it the first time because he was asked, but it’s turned into much more than that. It’s become the twenty-four most important notes he’ll ever play. Each time he puts the trumpet to his lips to play the C major triad, those within earshot stop to remember. They stand in silence, paying tribute to the heroes who have fallen in the name of their country.
Those who have served salute.
Some will weep. Most will stand, listen, and reflect.
At The Camp
Tom is an Assistant Scoutmaster for his son’s Boy Scout troop and sounds Taps on a regular basis for the group’s outings. It’s a task he enjoys and one he accomplishes with ease given the musical accomplishments he’s developed over the span of his high school and collegiate experiences. As a member of Bugles Across America, he performs at funerals when he can.
A few years ago, he went camping with a few other scout families for fun. Having heard Tom play for troop gatherings previously, the Scoutmaster asked him to bring his horn. Taps at night was a personal favorite of hers, and this would be the perfect opportunity.
For two springs, Hartman Creek State Park in Wisconsin heard him play Taps on Memorial Day weekend. Tom would find a spot where he wouldn’t be seen as he liked being the “invisible bugler” performing his unheralded duty. Not being identified also worked in his favor in case someone would take offense. Ultimately, he relished the satisfaction of knowing he was using his skill to honor those who were so deserving.
On Labor Day weekend of 2011, he camped with the same families in a different town where he again sounded taps at nightfall. Practicing his customary methodology, he found a spot well within earshot of the campgrounds that would secure his anonymity. Right on time at twenty-two hundred, he played.
The very next morning while tending to the campsite, he was approached by an elderly gentleman who had difficulty walking and was using a cane. Unbeknownst to Tom at the moment, the man had spent his entire morning walking the grounds looking for the person who had played Taps the night before.
“Are you the fella who was playing taps late last night?” he asked. Thoughts raced through Tom’s mind. “Crap. I’m about to get yelled at for waking this guy up. ” “Yes. That was me,” Tom replied, cringing in preparation for the verbal lashing he was about to take. The elderly man reached out his hand and gently touched Tom’s. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for making us stop and remember. I’ve been walking all morning looking for you. I wanted to say thank you for sharing your gift.”
Sometimes no words need to be spoken. Ironically, the best thank you can be a silent acknowledgment.
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Tom did the only thing he could to honor the fallen. He selected a fire station not far from his house and positioned himself in front of the flagpole that morning. With trumpet in hand, he waited, preparing to sound Taps at 10:20 am ET in honor of the collapse of the first tower of the World Trade Center.
Not long after he arrived, a city police squad car drove by. The officer pulled over, got out of his car, and walked over to Tom’s position. At 10:28 am ET, Tom played. The officer, standing next to him, saluted. At the conclusion, he lowered his horn as the policeman put a hand on Tom’s shoulder.
“Thank you,” choked the officer.
No more was said, and they both silently walked back to their lives.
Twenty-four notes. The special contribution that we give unselfishly of ourselves to make the difference in somebody else’s life. For Tom, it’s his trumpet and the gift of music. For others, it’s time donated, money given or services sponsored. For me, it’s the written word and what I hope is inspiration to those who need or want it.
What’re your twenty-four notes?
Thanks to our armed forces, police, and firefighters that protect us every day.