Taps: The Military Bugle in History and Ceremony November 21 2013, 1 Comment

A Bugle Call Remembering the  50th Anniversary of Taps at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

A special ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the sounding of Taps by U.S. Army Bugler Keith Clark at the funeral of President John F. Kennedy was  held at the Old Amphitheater beginning at 10 AM on November 12th. This special event was sponsored by Taps For Veterans, an organization devoted to providing live buglers for military funerals and ceremonies, and was  attended by military and civilian buglers from across the nation. The Joint Service Colors Team presented the colors and music was provided by the United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own). Speakers included Jack Lechner, Deputy Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, Nancy Joy McColley, daughter of Sgt. Keith Clark and James Swanson, noted historian and author of “End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.” Edward Hunter, who 50 years ago wrote letters to Sgt. Clark following the funeral, was recognized. Original members of the United States Air Force Pipe Band who played “Mist Covered Mountains” at the funeral were in  attendance to reprise the tune performed at the funeral. The ceremony ended  with a massed sounding of Taps by buglers from across the nation conducted by Colonel Michael Colburn, Director of the United States Marine Band.

Following the ceremony, buglers  moved to designated positions around the cemetery and sounded Taps at 12 noon in honor of Clark and all veterans who served our nation. A wreath ceremony was  held at the Tomb of the Unknowns at 1:15 PM. Members of the Clark family  layed the wreath. The ceremony was coordinated by Jari Villanueva, USAF Retired, who served at Arlington as a bugler for 23 years and is the author of “24 Notes That Tap Deep Emotions”. Arlington National Cemetery  opened  the Taps Exhibit on May 29, 1999. This exhibit  focuses  on the role of the bugle from 1800 to the present. It is the project of Master Sergeant Jari A. Villanueva (retired), trumpeter with the Air Force Ceremonial Brass, who  collected and procured hundreds of artifacts to be  in the exhibit. He, along with a team of musicians, historians and advisors created a display that sheds light on a significant, but overlooked, part of American history.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is  the bugle that was played at the funeral of John F. Kennedy, the nation's 35th president. Taps was sounded that chilly November day by Army Sergeant Keith Clark and the story of that day will be told from his perspective. Other artifacts in the exhibit include two Civil War bugles, a keyed bugle and the sword and spurs worn by Union General Daniel Butterfield, the officer credited with deriving Taps from a previous bugle call known as Tattoo.

Several buglers have been Medal of Honor recipients. Buglers John Cook and Calvin Titus distinguished themselves by gallantry in the heat of battle. John Cook was only fifteen during the battle of Antietam but volunteered to act as a cannoneer under heavy enemy fire. Calvin Titus was the first to scale the wall of Peking during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The Taps Exhibit includes a wide variety of memorabilia including bugles of every era since 1800. Photos, sheet music, manuals, uniforms, bugler insignias and items related to bugles are also featured. Buglers and bugles were a part of many historical events but they have also found themselves in the middle of popular culture. Bugles have been used as ornaments and on tobacco cans, not to mention the symbol in the middle of car horns today. During wartime, buglers and bugles were often depicted on cards, music and other items.

Taps is sounded at Arlington National Cemetery more often than any other place. "The one thing that is common to every ceremony at Arlington is that Taps is sounded. It's a call unique to the United States military that is sounded at funerals, wreath-layings, and memorial services" states Villanueva. Arlington, known as our Nation's greatest shrine, will honor those who have sounded the eloquent melody. Arlington National Cemetery is located adjacent to Ft. Myer in Virginia. The Visitor's Center is located off of Jefferson Davis Highway at the Memorial Bridge. It is also accessible from the Metro at the Arlington Cemetery stop. Altssimo! Recordings and Naxos of America proudly salute the memory of great Americans.

- Jack Kopstein