Presidents always mark the passing of Memorial Day, and I do too in my daily letter to the White House.
Tom Foreman | BIO
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.
What may be overlooked in the modern awareness of the song, however, may be its original purpose. As I just mentioned above, it was not about death but rather about a day’s work well done. Taps, sounding softly across an encampment at the end of a hard day told soldiers to quit their drinking, and talking, and restless movement. It told them that the pickets were placed, the guard standing, and it was time for the fires to be banked and the bedrolls spread.
I have often thought that the time asleep must be the most double-edged of swords for the soldier at war. Those few, fitful hours offer release from the worries of the day, and yet oddly enough expose the dreaming warrior to the greatest danger of all; being taken utterly unawares. At such times, he or she has no choice but to have faith in the comrade standing watch, searching the inky night for enemies. But Taps told soldiers long ago, and has ever since, that the fighting of the day is done.
I take some comfort in that. On this Memorial Day weekend, as we honor all those who have been lost in our military service, it is easy to dwell too much on their deaths. However, when I hear Taps I try to remind myself of what these people died for…so that we can lay down at the end of day, knowing their comrades remain on guard, ready to defend not merely our soil, but also the ideals for which we stand.
Hope your weekend is going well. Call if you get a moment.
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