HOLDEN, Maine — The 24 notes of the bugle call taps — which seem to linger in the heart when heard and connect all Americans, especially those who have been called to military service — echoed against the town’s granite veterans monument on Monday, this time in celebration.
The haunting melody is turning 150, and local veterans held a ceremony at the Holden Veterans Memorial to mark the occasion, with retired Lt. Col. Charles Knowlen officiating.
“When you hear it, you can’t help but feel a tug at your heart,” the 20-year U.S. Army veteran said just before the ceremony.
The bugle call was first played in July 1862 during the Civil War to mark the end of a soldier’s day and is still used in that capacity at military installations around the globe.
The long, drawn-out notes of the historic American tune were first played at a military funeral a century ago, Knowlen said. Nowadays taps is still played at memorial services for fallen military members, on veterans holidays and at wreath-laying ceremonies.
“It’s a tribute to the ones who have gone home,” said retired Maine Air National Guard Staff Sgt. John Clark, who served as an airman for 21 years and now sits on Holden’s veterans committee.
When taps is played on a military base, soliders stop whatever they are doing, turn toward the base’s American flag and salute while the notes are played and the flag is lowered for the day. When it’s played at funerals and ceremonies, customarily those in uniform or former servicemen or women salute and others place their right hands over their hearts.
Knowlen gave a short history of how bugle calls were used during the Civil War to announce everything from a call to action to breakfast to “lights out.” Union Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield and his brigade bugler, Pvt. Oliver Wilcox Norton, composed taps to replace the nightly French-authored bugle call, and its popularity spread like wildfire, Knowlen said.
There is another story about the song’s creation that is often told and has a little more mystery, but it’s just a folk story, Knowlen said. It’s about a Union soldier who ran onto the battlefield to save a dying man who turned out to be a Confederate soldier — as well as the Union soldier’s son. The mortally wounded soldier had the notes for taps in his pocket, which was played for the first time at his funeral, or so the story is told, Knowlen said.
Kristen Daigle, who recently graduated from Brewer High School, said she has played the melody on her trumpet a dozen times at various ceremonies, including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and at Monday’s anniversary.
“It makes me nervous every time,” she said just after finishing the 24-note tune.