Bugles Across America group pays its respects
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – There are 400,000 or so funerals each year in the United States for military veterans and active duty military men and women. They are entitled to a live bugler to play the Sounding of the Taps but there are simply not enough buglers in the military to cover these services. Filling the void is Bugles Across America (BAA), with almost 7,000 horn-playing members nationwide who have stepped up on a volunteer basis to cover the shortage. A dozen Connecticut-based members met up in the University Commons room at Sacred Heart University early Sunday afternoon to get to know one another and discuss logistics.
A meeting coordinator, Fairfield resident Steve Smith, a bugler whose day job is retail packaging sales, provided some background about the group. “BAA was formed in 2000 by Tom Day, a Marine and horn player all his life,” he said. “The directive passed by Congress entitling military deceased to a bugler also said if none is available, the service providing the funeral honors may play a high quality recording of Taps on a stereo player or electronic insert for a bugle. Tom thought the idea of a recording was undignified and committed himself to ensuring a live performance whenever possible.”
Smith said that the organization receives requests through its website from each state’s National Guard, funeral homes and individuals and families of the deceased.
As to his own involvement, Smith said, “I started playing trumpet in 5th grade and continued through high school in marching bands and a youth symphony in Atlanta, where I was raised. My father saw an article about BAA and passed it off. It peaked my interest and I joined this past January. I’ve played five services so far. I feel like I’m giving back and it’s an honor to play for the family. From the get-go I thought this was for me as long as I could do it. I love playing anyway, but more than anything, I like that I’ve found something I’m really committed to. Live Taps is an important part of a military service.”
Smith said there had been a high volume of service requests in Connecticut due to Army National Guard budget cuts, and the Guard was more than happy to have the BAA’s help.
The state director of the BAA, Jon Worley, from Glastonbury, gave background about his own involvement. “I assumed my role back in January and my responsibility is to coordinate the organization’s state activities and fill requests,” he said. “I was really a lifelong guitar player until three years ago when I picked up a bugle. I’m also a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, which is an organization of volunteers who attend (upon invitation) military funerals as a show of respect and to interfere with the activities of any protestors that may also attend the funeral. That was my introduction to the use of a digital bugle and the shortage of real buglers.”
Worley said it took him a year to learn to play Taps adequately. “To date I’ve covered about 150 services – 40 this year alone for BAA,” he said. “The 150 include services for other military and police organizations. It’s very personally rewarding and definitely the right thing to do. For a full military service, one bugler plays Taps. For other types of services – police or fire, for instance – two or more buglers will play Echo Taps, which uses a cascade effect.”
Believed to be the youngest member of the BAA, Will Evans, 14, from East Haddam, CT, spoke about his start. “My uncle, Pierre Guertin, who’s a musician and bugler, told me about BAA,” he said. “I was already playing trumpet at Nathan Hale-Ray Middle School and had gotten pretty good. I was in the Eastern Regional Band, too, entry to which is by audition only. It seemed like a good idea and, as I got into it, I realized how important it was. I saw the family members crying. It was very touching.”
Evans said his age sometimes throws people. “Initially, the families are a little unsure, but then they realize that I’m capable and they are very moved,” he said.
For more information about Bugles Across America, visit www.buglesacrossamerica.org