BANGOR, Maine — The 24 notes that longtime bugler Hal Wheeler played to end the city’s Memorial Day events were his way of saying goodbye to the men and women in uniform who have fallen in service to this country.
“It really is a memorial,” Wheeler said about the mournful bugle call taps. “There are those who say they are the hardest 24 notes to play. That’s not true for me, but they certainly are the most emotional notes, and maybe that’s why it’s hard.
“It’s like the last goodbye,” he said.
Wheeler stood in Davenport Park where Bangor’s parade ended and positioned himself near the golden shield and scrolls of the Battleship Maine, which lost 266 crewmembers when it was sunk in Havana Harbor, Cuba, in 1898.
Little Arlo Proctor, 3, ran around the crowd that gathered at the park with his grandmother Ann Marston of Bangor following closely on his heels. She said she brought her grandson to the event because “we have quite a history” of military service.
“His grandfather served during Vietnam, my father served during World War II in the Pacific and my husband’s father served in Murmansk. Do you know what Murmansk means? It was a Russian port, and it means very dangerous,” Marston said.
All of her relatives lost people close to them while serving. The fallen should be remembered, she said, a sentiment passed along to her by her father, Charles Masters, who is now deceased but served as a turret operator during World War II.
“My father, at his 50th wedding anniversary stood up and thanked five Brewer boys for saving his life by beating the Japanese at the Battle of Iwo Jima,” Marston said as an example of his patriotism. “Those five died so he could come home and have five children of his own.”
Bangor resident Crystal Lewis also brought her daughter Amya, 1, to the parade because of a military connection to her family.
“Without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t be here,” Lewis said.
Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham, adjutant general for the Maine National Guard and commissioner of the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, walked in the parade with World War II veteran Galen Cole of Bangor. Cole served with the 5th Armored Division, 46th Armored Infantry Battalion, 1st Platoon during World War II and dedicates each Memorial Day to five fellow soldiers who died on the day after Easter 1945 when their transport vehicle took fire from a German anti-tank artillery gun.
At the park, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Bangor City Council Chairman Joseph Baldacci spoke about remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, a wreath was placed at the Battleship Maine memorial, and a 21-gun salute was held.
Then, Wheeler put the bugle to his lips and 24 melancholy notes slowly escaped into the air.
On Memorial Day, “I’m reluctant to let go,” Wheeler said of the musical notes. “The last note goes on until I’m out of breath.”