May 30th, 2010
10:15 AM ET

Letters to the President #496: “The Sound of Taps”

Presidents always mark the passing of Memorial Day, and I do too in my daily letter to the White House.   

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Immediately after my father’s funeral, while folks were milling around the small country church in Alabama sharing remembrances and local news, a family friend walked up to my brother, his eyes still shining with tears, and said, “I almost made it through without crying, until that damn Taps was played.”

Taps is, of course, one of the most powerful pieces of music in our culture today; played at countless funerals for retired and active members of military each year.  Most times, in my experience, it is far more moving than any words that are said.

You’ve probably heard the more or less official story of how it came to be; how a Union General named Butterfield in the Civil War worked with a bugler to refine some old existing tune into a proper horn call to signal the end of the day.  The details are a shade murky, but then so are a lot of things that emerge from the din of battle.