A Maine musician was present this weekend while the haunting strains of taps filled Arlington National Cemetery, as a nonprofit organization marked the 150th anniversary of the famous military signal.
Ron Clark of Belfast, one of the nearly 200 buglers and trumpeters from all over the country who came to the cemetery Saturday for the Bugles Across America event, said it was an unforgettable experience.
“It was like I went to heaven, and everybody that I know played the same instrument that I did,” the 52-year-old said Sunday. “I’ve never had a time like that. I’ve never been in a place where 183 of us were all doing the same thing.”
Bugles Across America was founded in 2000, after the U.S. Congress passed legislation that stated veterans have the right to at least two uniformed military people to fold the flag and play taps on a CD player.
Organizers of the group thought that veterans deserved a live rendition of taps, so they seek volunteers to provide the service. There are now more than 7,500 volunteer buglers in all 50 states and overseas, who play the military signal on a traditional bugle, trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn or a valved bugle.
Taps began during the Civil War, and is also known as “Day is Done.”
Clark, the vice president of the Lincolnville Community Band, said he first heard of the group while watching “60 Minutes” a couple of years ago. He now plays the flugelhorn at veterans’ funerals in honor of his grandfather, 98-year-old Lawrence Burleigh of Corinna. Burleigh fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
“What I like about taps is honoring those who have fallen,” Clark said.
He described himself as a mostly self-taught musician who grew up in Belfast and spent 20 years in Presque Isle, where there wasn’t a community band. Clark said he would have liked to pursue a professional career in music, and that participating in the Bugles Across America event was special for him.
“It’s kind of fantastic,” he said. “It’s a national event, and it gives me a little feather in my hat.”
Clark said the buglers — some of whom were military veterans dressed in their old uniforms — performed three different renditions of taps. The first time they played in unison, and then a little later they played in four separate parts.
His wife, Jancie Clark, told her husband that was her favorite.
“It just sounded really good,” he said.
Then the musicians spread out around the large national cemetery. Lt. Col. John R. Thomas, maintenance group commander of the 101st Air Refueling Wing of the Maine Air National Guard in Bangor, also played in Saturday’s event. When the musicians spread out, Thomas and Clark chose to play near the monument to the USS Maine, the battleship that sank in 1898 in Havana harbor and eventually led to the Spanish-American war.
The two buglers didn’t play together but instead echoed each other, the notes lingering over the white gravestones.
“There were thousands and thousands and thousands of gravestones,” Clark said. “A sea of white headstones of all the fallen soldiers.”